Author: Michael FitzGerald BE, founder and CEO of OnePageCRM In 2009, I was running a successful client services company. We developed web applications and eCommerce systems for clients in Ireland and internationally. To increase sales, I started reading what the sales gurus touted as the secret formula. It turns out, it comes down to one thing – if you increase your sales actions, you will increase your sales. Is it really that simple? These ‘sales actions’ are things like calling, emailing, creating estimates, following up after quotes, doing presentations and adjusting quotes. With the number of prospects I intended targeting and resulting sales action, I knew I needed some sort of sales system to track and manage my efforts.

CRM (customer relationship management) is broad term within business software – sometimes encapsulating contact management, sales automation and forecasting, support and financial elements. OnePageCRM is focused on the sales function within CRM.
I researched and tested various CRM systems in search of the solution but, to my surprise, none of them particularly helped with the sales function. They were mostly ‘dead databases’, not much better than phonebook-style lists of contacts and deals. I wanted something pro-active as I did not have time as an owner-manager to be browsing through a database or charts to see what needed to be done and guessing what to do next. Owner managers are in a difficult position. They are often the main person customers want to deal with, and so they need to juggle all the functions of running a business along with doing sales. What they actually need is to get in and out of the sales function efficiently, to maximise their time available for all aspects of the business. HOW IT STARTED [caption id="attachment_8900" align="alignright" width="800"] The app's action stream (click to enlarge)[/caption] I am a fan of GTD – getting things done – a productivity principle for busy people that emphasises uncluttered focus on what needs to be done next, while hiding future tasks until the right time. Within a trusted system, this clears the mind for creativity, action and progress. Gradually, the idea took shape in my mind of applying GTD to sales, to create a simple one-page app where the next action for each of my prospects would present itself in a pro-active to-do list. I remember the December day later that year when I left the office for a break and came back with ice cream for my hard-working colleagues, announcing as I passed them around that we were starting a new app today… and were going to ship it three months later. As they enjoyed their ice creams, they smiled at me a little disbelievingly. I could understand their scepticism. We had tried previously to get to market an accounts application for small business, but the lengthy approach we took at the time meant it never saw the light of day. With this in my mind, I was adamant that the frustration I had experienced could be turned to our advantage and used it to ensure we shipped a product quickly. I was driven by the sting of that memory and also by the influence of two articles I had read. One was Seth Godin's ‘Build in shipping as a feature’, which intrigued me. I mean, how could you treat shipping as a feature? But what it boiled down to for me was: if shipping on a date was a key objective, what features could you leave out in order to ensure that was honoured? [caption id="attachment_8902" align="alignright" width="800"] The deal pipeline for OnePageCRM's app (click to enlarge)[/caption] The second article included a quote from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman: “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” Both statements were different but resonated the same for me: just get it out there, into the customers’ hands. In my mind, I knew it was an experiment. I was going to take the first design from my designer, whether I liked it or not. Then we were just going to ship it and that would be that. We worked hard to code the basic concept quickly – known as a MVP (minimum viable product), whereby you only develop the core part of the product that sets you apart from the competition. The rest of the product should be developed with the customer. GOING LIVE WTH THE CONCEPT The 22nd of March arrived and I said to Fiona, the then developer and project manager, “Put it live!” The conversation went something like this: Fiona: “No way, it’s not finished.” Me: “We picked this date and that’s it; turn it on for the public.” Fiona: “But it has bugs.” Me: “There will always be bugs. We’re going live.” On that first day, we announced out of the blue on Twitter that we had created this product called OnePageCRM, urging people to come and have a look. The Twitteratti reacted and blog posts were even written that day by beta testers revealing this “interesting concept for CRM” with screenshots. We had shipped. That day changed the the nature of development for us completely. We no longer worried about, for example, a button that should be blue being red, but instead about making sure users could create an account, log in and use it. We spent the next few months interacting with users from around the world, mostly finding and inviting sophisticated early adopters to come in, have a look and give us feedback. We were obsessed with keeping the conversation going by email with those users, learning more than we could ever do on our own in the office. Shortly afterwards, I was invited by Enterprise Ireland to participate in iGAP, its management programme for high growth-potential internet companies in Ireland. On one of the modules, the now-famed Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries delivered a full day on a 'new ship-and-iterate-quickly' approach to product development that was beginning to be adopted by the Silicon Valley startups. There I was learning all about this ‘latest thing’ called Lean Startup, and I remember thinking: “Oh, so that's what we did!” Michael FitzGerald holds a Bachelor of Engineering from NUI Galway and worked as a sport science technologist and product design engineer in SRAM and Slendertone, before turning to the world of software. He is the CEO and founder of OnePageCRM. For more details, visit