Simplifying Our Operations

Over the past 5 1/2 years of business, we have a fallen into a variety of processes and systems. Some are convoluted, some are purely convenience. In almost every case, they were implemented in the heat of the moment and rarely received refinement. We often had huge dreams of building an entire platform for not only managing audio and video publishing, but also providing all of the tools we need to run and build Castfire. In reality, we have found this is a very poor use of our engineering focus.

In the last 6 weeks, we have started putting process in place and locking in our use of 3rd party services. Our engineering time is extremely valuable, so maximizing our time working on core functionality is key. On that note, here are some of the key companies that we rely on as we scale sales and account management while keeping our engineers focused on our publishing platform.

We had been using Salesforce for almost two years but found that it was overwhelming for our small sales staff. Unfortunately, during setup, we tried to populate it with all of our contacts throughout the years. The result was a database filled with inactive records and poorly categorized. While Salesforce is a very strong SaaS platform, we needed something simpler.

Enter Highrise from 37Signals, which is a very simple CRM for small businesses. The cost savings was not only substantial, but it also allowed for everyone in the company to have access to the data. We have now begun consolidating all of user management, pipeline, and marketing efforts within Highrise. Our goal by the end of the year is to use Highrise to do monthly reviews of not only our pipeline, but also existing accounts. It will aggregate everything from marketing emails, billing, support and more into a single place. Even early into this process, it has increased our productivity and our internal conversations about Castfire.

We have been a Zendesk customer since July, 2008. They have provided a wonderful support system that has grown dramatically over the years. The email workflow for support tickets has been essential for us. With the addition of Randall Bennett, we have begun taking advantage of the knowledge base and forum functionality as well. We are looking forward to utilizing the integration with GoodData to provide reporting on our response times and the types of tickets.

In our goal to consolidate around Highrise, this October, we will be utilizing their webhooks implementation to add tickets to Highrise automatically. Unfortunately, it is not a simple process to integrate immediately, however, it should only take a couple of hours with some creativity.

Prior to March, 2009, our billing process was a partially automated, fully pain in the ass system. While there is a separate datawarehouse for every client on Castfire, representing all usage of our platform, the actual process of getting invoices out was slow and painful. It involved quite a bit of back and forth over emailed spreadsheets and often incurred delays.

We implemented the Freshbooks API in less than a week, fully automating the monthly process of creating invoices. While we still incur delays on certain months as we QA all of the billing, we have found that Freshbooks is rock solid and is a fabulous invoicing system. It is such a valuable tool for Castfire it is painful to think of the days we did not use Freshbooks.

In October, we will also be integrating our Freshbooks solution with Highrise. While there is not an existing solution, webhooks again to the rescue. This is a huge step in being able to review account status from a single application.

The most difficult aspect of our billing process has been the refinement of our pricing model. While the iteration process has led us to a greatly simplified model that is resonating with customers, it is a nightmare to keep up with the variety of historical models. We are beginning to consolidate all customers to a single model, but it has been a struggle. Simplifying our pricing model not only makes it easier for our customers, it makes it much easier for our operations staff to accurately bill each month.

There are a ton of email marketing companies on the market. As we have been heavy on video and engineering expertise, and admittedly light on marketing expertise, we looked for a solution that was easy, offered tons of functionality and, most importantly, would walk us through the process of managing our newsletter. Mailchimp has provided us all of the functionality in a simple to use interface with fantastic pricing.

As a bonus, their integration with Highrise is great. We are able to gather all of the stats from our email marketing directly into our CRM to provide a single dashboard to review our current and pipeline customers. All of the functionality was enabled in about 10 mouse clicks. Amazing.

Google Apps
This is the basis of it all for the Castfire team. Google has rolled out an amazing suite of tools for our team. I am not sure where we would be if we had to put together Mail, Calendar, IM, Office apps and simple wikis on our own. I can promise you that it would not be as reliable, would not be as complete and would not allow our engineers to focus on our core business. This has been a major win for Castfire.

The ability for web applications to interact through APIs and Webhooks makes life so much easier for start ups. We picked best of breed solutions and connected them, utilizing very little of our engineering time. We are thrilled with what we have put together in the past 6 weeks and look forward to refining this the remainder of the year. Thanks to all of the companies and open technologies that have made this possible.