[IMGCAP(1)]How’d you get the idea for Chrometa?

It’s a question I get quite often from friends and acquaintances, which is kind of ironic, because the initial concept for Chrometa, while interesting, has been the least of our worries for the last four years!

Good concepts and ideas are great, but I’ve found their value to be just about zero. People’s perceptions are swayed and biased by the “instant successes” of companies like Groupon and Facebook; in 99.9% of all cases, you don’t catch lightning in a bottle that quickly.

In reality, it’s all about execution, or the adjustments, pivots and changes you make along the way as you bring your concept to fruition—and, of course, perseverance to see it through!

Whether your firm has a new service to offer, a concept for a commoditized product to sell, a new or revised business model, or simply a new way of doing things at your firm, I thought you’d benefit from hearing the lessons we learned along the way. It’s been almost four years since we started full-time development on our dream. Here’s the spirited tale of Chrometa’s journey from concept to product to polished solution.

March 4, 2009 – Chrometa 1.1 launches (But nobody cares)

After nearly two years of product development we sent out a press release announcing ourFirst Automatic Time Capture Tool for Attorneys.” Fortunately, we didn’t expand our team to handle the anticipated barrage of phone calls and sales inquiries – because there weren’t any!

Did we have a product professionals were willing to pay for? One month after launch, we weren’t exactly sure. We decided to lower our pricing to try and get some kind of market validation. We needed to see if people were willing to pay for our product before we did anything else.

June 3, 2009 – TechnoLawyer covers Chrometa 1.1

TechnoLawyer is an online publication targeted at attorneys who want the latest scoop on legal technology. We thought it would be the perfect advertising medium for us.

This initial coverage from TechnoLawyer (an e-mail to their 13,000 subscribers, plus a blog post) was great in helping to get the ball rolling with product awareness in the legal community. We picked up about 25 customers from it, too – and, more importantly, we solicited key product feedback from active users who showed us what we needed to develop and improve upon.

Our 1.1 release was a decent-to-good product. It wasn’t yet great, and without a great product/market fit, it was going to be very challenging for us to get anywhere.

August 5, 2009 – TechnoLawyer (again) on Chrometa 2.0

We finished Chrometa 2.0 around 3 a.m. Pacific time on August 5 – and just six hours later, TechnoLawyer released its coverage to their subscribers. We got more traction on this release than the one from two months ago; we counted 64 installations and even a few sales within the initial 72 hours!

After the initial excitement, then what?

Post-launch, we’d been successful in rising above the noise and clutter, at least for a couple of shining moments. The product fit was much better with our new release, and we were seeing the rewards of our summer development efforts.

This was all great, but we soon hit a bit of a lull after the initial buzz wore off, so we tried to figure out: How can we keep excitement going for a product that’s very well received by customers, but is not inherently viral itself?

There was no magic formula for us over the ensuing months to keep the ball moving forward. We just hustled as best as we could by doing the following:

  • We called all customers after they bought the product. We wanted to thank them and make sure they were happy with us and our software. We also wanted to learn what they liked and what had motivated them to buy – and we wanted to pick their brains a bit about how we should go about finding other customers like them.
  • We reached out to other publications in the legal industry, as well as bloggers and anyone else who covered technology to see if they’d be interested in taking Chrometa for a test spin. We never explicitly asked for a review, but these efforts did result in a number of product reviews.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we rolled out fixes and enhancements to the product as fast as we could; there’s nothing like live customer feedback to guide your product development. Continued product improvement was the most important thing we did over this time period.

Our Lessons Learned

    1.    Focus on one, and only one, initial market. Otherwise it’s very easy and tempting to spread yourself too thin. If you’re trying to tackle a few initial markets in parallel, you’ll become frustrated if you don’t move the needle in any of them. It’s hard enough to move the needle in one market with a new product.
    2.    It’s easy to get discouraged if things don’t ramp as fast as you had hoped. Grit and persistence do pay off. Of course, you want to ramp up adoption and sales in the classic hockey stick fashion, but it rarely happens this way in practice. As long as your customers are paying for your product – and they are happy with it after their purchase – you are doing fine. That means the fundamentals of your situation are good. And you just need to go find more customers – and that is very doable. Easier said than done, but doable

    3.    Buzz and coverage won’t necessarily make your business. We’ve been covered by major mainstream and industry sources – and you’d be surprised what actually has and has not moved the needle for us. One example I always use is our very first piece of media coverage, by none other than Inc. Magazine. How cool, right?  While it was very cool for us personally, our product wasn’t yet ready for prime time – AND, the coverage wasn’t exactly geared toward a Chrometa prospect since the article was more about raising angel funding. The overall effect of this particular piece was somewhat smaller than you might expect. I’d say the tendency for us optimistic entrepreneurs is to overestimate that effect.

      Bottom Line: It’s very tough to get traction when you’re starting off. You want nothing more than for people to care about your new concept. You expected instant hockey curve growth, but you’ll still struggle to get a few users.

      … And before every overnight success are hundreds of not-so-successful days.

      Be patient, measure your progress and focus on the purest fundamentals – namely improving your offering and keeping your customers thrilled. If you can get these two things right, the rest should eventually fall into place. Keep at it – you’ll get there!

      Brett Owens is chief executive and co-founder of Chrometa, a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of time-tracking software that records activity in real time. Previously marketed to the legal community, Chrometa is branching out to accounting prospects. Gains include the ability to discover previously undocumented billable time, saving time on billing reconciliation and improving personal productivity. Brett can be reached at 916-254-0260 and brett@chrometa.com.