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How to Generate the "Big Idea" to Help Your Company Grow

This is Part 2 of our ongoing series Why Your Company Needs An App.

Here is Part 1: Three Reasons to Build an App


Depending on your personality it may seem natural or daunting to find an app idea for your business. We know from experience that finding the right idea can be a challenge. At Beloved Robot we have created a systematic approach to uncovering the ideas that will generate more business or improve efficiency within your company. We say uncover because most of the time the answer is right in front of you, but because you are so close to your business these ideas are often overlooked. This information will assist you as you begin to generate and validate your app ideas. It’s a good idea to keep a pen and paper (or a text editor) handy to jot down ideas specific to your business as they come.

Increasing Efficiency

Construction Superintendents are famously busy. They work tirelessly to remove roadblocks, stay on time and on budget. Superintendents often manage multi-million dollar projects that have hundreds of moving parts. One thing that a Super does every single day is record a daily project report or note. These reports keep track of everything that’s going on with the project on a very granular level, and often can be a huge burden for the Super. It is usually a task that gets done late in the afternoon or after they’ve already gone home.

We recently worked with a general contractor on an app that saves their Superintendents anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour of their day, simply by streamlining their daily reporting. Now they have a dedicated app on their phone where they can quickly and easily take notes throughout the day and they no longer need to sit down and recall every single detail once it’s over. Those Supers can now focus on what’s most important, executing their project. This simple app idea has increased the Superintendents effectiveness at their job, removed a burden, and also saved the company money in the form of time saved.

In your day to day work what are the things that you and your employees do over and over again? What is the biggest waste of time in your week that you can’t delegate? Are paper processes drowning your employees in busy work?

Now go to your employees and ask them the same questions. What is the paperwork that they are always behind on? What do they wish they could accomplish on their iPad or iPhone instead of “later” when their back at their desks?

Take some time to reflect company-wide and determine the areas where an app could improve efficiency and save your company money. After making a list then you need to determine the priority and simplicity to finding a solution to each problem. Does one idea jump out at you as something you could automate simply? If so that is the idea you should tackle. We recommend that first-time app builders focus on the low hanging fruit. Meaning that you should find the smallest piece of your business process that you could improve upon with an app. This ensures that you will stay focused on improving your business, and not creating a swiss army knife solution that falls apart (great knives, poor software approach). If you are able to identify something that would reduce inefficiency quickly and easily you’ll be successful and moving your business towards scalability.

Unlock your Data

While I was in college I worked for a sporting good store that had been in business for over 50 years. In a back room there was a row of filing cabinets that held every order they had ever written. I remember rifling through orders looking for something specific and thinking about all of the data that these files contained.

Now imagine if all of that data were in a spreadsheet or better yet a database where you could do real analysis on it. What if you could look at the lifetime value of your customers? What if you could quickly see every order that a customer has placed with you? What if you could be alerted when a customer stops buying after a certain period of time?

When thinking about an idea for an app to help your business grow think about all of the data that you currently have about your business that is locked away somewhere. An app could be perfectly suited to gather the most critical data about your business. Take time to write down some ideas to gather information about your business with an app.

Could an app-based form for orders or work replace a paper-process? Could tracking employee time, materials, and expenses with an app uncover waste? Could you use geo-location to have a better understanding of travel time? If that’s the case then building an app will make your business much smarter and will inform the way you run your business over the next decade.

New Business

About two years ago we were approached by an industrial service company that was looking to create more consistent and recurring revenue. The company wanted to be proactive with their customers rather than reactive to emergency calls. So they created an inspection program where their highly trained technicians would inspect their customer’s equipment on a regular basis. This inspection program enabled the technicians to gauge the condition of their customer’s equipment which they were tasked to service. The inspections gave the technicians the chance to sell recommended maintenance and in return the customer was given the analytics to prove that the program was saving them from more serious problems.

At first the inspection program was done on paper, but it wasn’t long before they realized the benefits of using an app for both the technicians and customers. Now the techs have a custom-built app that walks them through inspecting every piece of equipment step-by-step. The app ensures they complete every inspection and also gives them a platform to make recomendations. The data from the inspections goes directly to the customer’s app, which shows them efficiency scores for each piece of equipment as well as maintenance recommendations and history. The inspection program and app have been a huge success.

Are there potential revenue channels that you haven’t tapped into yet? Is there an obvious growth opportunity that you haven’t capitalized on? Are your competitors offering services or products that you are not? How could you be more proactive with your business than reactive.

These are the questions that you need to ask yourself when you are searching for that next killer idea to grow your business.

Overview

The idea is really just the beginning. But once you have the right idea it will inspire you to move forward with growing your company. Over the next few weeks we are going to cover the next steps to take once you have a killer idea. Next week we will dive into how you research and refine your idea to ensure that it’s the absolute best fit.

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3 Reasons to Build an App

Over the past few years there has been an explosion of business apps that are focused on specific industries. These business-specific apps are built to meet the common needs of most companies in their particular space. It has never been easier for your business to adopt mobile software, and yet these apps often fall-short of offering an integrated solution for existing systems and workflows.

We at Beloved Robot recognize the value of mobile apps for business, and more importantly we recognize the value of deeply integrating them within your company. We believe that the right custom integrated app for your business will have a greater impact than if you adopted the top business and productivity apps for your space. Read on to discover the three reasons why a custom app makes sense for your company.

You Are Unique

We have had the pleasure of working with a variety of companies. One day we might be working with a general contractor, the next day a steel manufacturer, and the next day a heavy equipment company. It is always interesting to see how differently every company is run. Even the general contractors that we have met work so different from each other. There may be similarities at a high level but when you get into the details, the workflows, every company is unique. In many situations it is your uniqueness that gives you an edge over your competitors.

Given that your company is unique, why would you make significant changes within your company just to conform to a generic app? In some cases a drastic change is necessary in order to produce drastic results. Yet we have found with a custom-built app that we can bring drastic results with minimal company change.

Unlock Your Data

A problem with many business apps in the market is that they create what we call "Data Silos". Surely you know what a silo is, a giant cylinder that holds grain. A Data Silo is where an app collects critical information about your business or process, and yet the only access to that data is through the app’s interface. Here's an example of how Data Silos can become a problem.

Jim's HVAC Service and Repair

Jim's HVAC has five technicians that are spread out over the metro area every day. All of the technicians have an iPhone but they are still required to do paperwork. They have started to adopt some business apps to move away from writing everything down on paper. The have implemented new processes with a variety of apps that track everything from mileage, time, paper scanning, expense tracking, and mapping technology for navigation.

The use of mobile apps has been an efficiency gain for the technicians, but it is becoming a huge headache for the office staff. When it’s time to invoice a customer they have to look in four or five different locations to collect all of the data they need. Instead of all of this data living in one place that is easily accessible, it is all locked into the app’s Data Silo. A solution could be found by building a custom app that provides the interfaces the technicians need and yet delivers the data to the office staff in a single format, or better yet delivers it to the systems already in place that can create the invoices for the customer.

Great ROI

The first thing that someone thinks of when they consider building an app is the cost. At Beloved Robot we have been building custom apps since 2012, and we know that building a custom app is as cost effective as ever. The technology might not be as cheap as you would like, but with recent advancements it is taking less effort to build custom solutions. The goal that we try to set with our customers is to focus on the return, rather than the investment. Let’s go back to Jim’s HVAC for an example:

Jim's HVAC Builds a Custom App

After a short prototyping phase with Jim’s team we approach him with a proposal. Jim needs an app that provides everything his technicians and office staff need to run the company and replace paperwork for good. Of course the proposal also includes the price. The app costs $60k up-front and an option for an on-going maintenance retainer for $1,000/month to keep the app running through software/hardware upgrades etc. Essentially we are proposing a $120k investment over the next five years. Bam! That’s the sound of Jim’s jaw hitting the desk. The sticker-shock alone is enough for Jim to write us off completely, but we follow-up with the expected return.

Even though the technicians saw some efficiency gained with the off-the-shelf business apps, our custom solution is tailored specifically to their needs. No longer do they need to jump between apps to log data, they can do it all in one place. Our custom solution is also integrated with their systems at the office so the technicians don’t have to fill out common data such as Job Names, Addresses, and Phone Numbers over and over again. Through our beta testing we have proven that we will save each technician 45 minutes a day from their existing process. That means we are saving the company more than 18 cumulative hours a week, or $360 a week.

The office staff is getting a giant efficiency gain as well. They aren’t having to track data and technicians down to invoice customers, all of that is now an automated process that is done for them. Again through our beta testing we proved we can save the office staff up to 16 hours a week, or roughly $320 a week.

The time saved by technicians means that they can move onto other customers faster. The time saved by the office staff is used to focus on collecting payments and tracking down new business leads. In addition the custom application provides valuable analytics such as customer lifetime value and average time spent per job, and that data can be used to improve workflows and make better sales and marketing decisions. The custom app will also make the business more scalable, so as Jim’s HVAC grows they have the app that guides the business and each new hire.

Our pitch to Jim is it will cost $120k over five years, yet he would save at least $176k and also be given the tools to increase sales and scale his company. If Jim is serious about growing his business this is a no brainer.

The Best Choice

If you go looking for an app to solve a problem you are going to find one, but I challenge you to see the whole picture. There are many apps that we support and love, but we also want our clients to fully investigate the possibilities of a custom solution. Your company is unique, and an integrated solution that is scalable, and tailored to your existing business is often the best choice.

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Doing real work on iOS

A podcast has recently launched called Canvas. The show is hosted by Federico Viticci and Fraser Speirs. Here’s the description of the show:

Hosted by Federico Viticci and Fraser Speirs, Canvas is a podcast all about mobile productivity. Armed with iOS, Federico and Fraser will be walking through workflows, exploring the best apps for the iPad and iPhone and helping users solve problems.

The first episode’s topic is file management on iOS, mainly focused around downloading and uploading files. This is 30 minutes packed full of great tips and tricks. If you spend most of your time working on an iOS device you’ll want to add Canvas to your favorite podcasting app.

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Concrete is Awesome!

I warned you about this last week, but I couldn't resist recommending another podcast.

Gimlet Media recently launched a new show called Suprisingly Awesome. The show is hosted by Adam Davidson, of NPR's Planet Money, and Adam McKay who is well known for writing and directing Anchorman and Step Brothers.

Here's their description of the show:

Surprisingly Awesome is a show full of stories like this. Stories about things that sound totally boring, but turn out to be totally awesome.

Episode 3's topic is: Concrete. Naturally concrete doesn't seem to be a very exciting topic but I think you will enjoy the episode.

Listen here.

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