5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS: “Get feedback as early and as often as you can” with Justin Couto and Mitch Russo
Get feedback as early and as often as you can. Before we started building SoCreate, we interviewed roughly 60 professional screenwriters about their needs and challenges. We listened deeply and only started after we felt we had a really good understanding of the process beyond my own personal experiences. Continue to get feedback during the process.
As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Justin Couto. Justin is the founder and CEO of SoCreate, a screenwriting software startup based in San Luis Obispo, California halfway between Silicon Valley to the north and Hollywood to the south. SoCreate is revolutionizing the screenwriting industry in this golden age of content by enabling people of any age and background to break through traditional screenwriting barriers and bring their stories to life. Couto founded and sold several successful software companies and spent the last two decades saving up proceeds from his successes to self-fund SoCreate, Screenwriting for Everyone.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up on a farm, in a family full of doers, fixers, and problem solvers. If something wasn’t working the way we needed it to, we’d solve that problem with whatever materials or tools we had available. When you grow up like that, you never stop identifying and solving problems that prevent you from being productive. You can’t turn it off.
My life twisted and turned in various directions, from being a car mechanic to a tow truck driver to an aspiring screenwriter, and finally a software engineer.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I was always interested in movies. I love movies. As far back as I can remember, I felt I had unique stories to tell and perspectives that should be shared with the world. When I left my job as a mechanic to go to college, I thought I’d shoot for the stars. I decided I wanted to make movies and become a screenwriter. Early on, I read the how-to books, took classes, and tried my hand at various screenwriting software. While in college, I was learning to write screenplays while I was also learning to write software. I was completely frustrated with the screenwriting tools available to me. They were cumbersome, they got in my way and they took me out of my creative zone and pushed me into a zone of frustration. Almost immediately, my undefeatable need to make processes easier kicked in, forcing a life path for me that I would have never imagined. The idea for SoCreate was born and I have never looked back.
With revenue from my successful software companies, I saved a million bucks over the last decade with the intention of building the SoCreate Screenwriting Platform. Imagine how many people are out there with incredible story ideas and no idea where to start? I want to help them. I want to see more shows and movies from more voices from faraway lands and young and old writers alike. Screenwriting should not be for the select few who “make it” or who have Hollywood connections. Screenwriting should be for everyone! That’s what keeps me up at night.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Where should I begin? I set out to build and deliver the SoCreate vision as soon as my initial inspiration struck. It didn’t take long until I realized the timing to do this was not right. I was more than a decade too early, and I quickly discovered that software capabilities, web technology, and perhaps most importantly, writers, weren’t ready for the new reality I was trying to forge. It was a hard pill to swallow because I knew the world needed this solution, and I was determined to solve the problem. That led me on a 17-year journey to fund, build, and deliver a solution that breaks down all the unnecessary barriers that prevent amazing storytellers from even getting started.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
It may have taken nearly two decades, but now it’s all happening! We’ve built a state-of-the-art facility and top-of-the-line team, and we’ve begun creating a revolutionary platform to replace frustrating screenwriting software. We’re heading towards our beta trials with everything we have in us and launch is eminent. The stars are aligning, and soon creators around the world will feel SoCreate’s impact on storytelling.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I spent time going to banks thinking they would actually help finance the company I was building. I learned that if you want something bad enough, you can figure out how to fund it yourself. I’m still doing that to this day!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
So many things. Standing out today is not hard, but businesses fail to do so because they are focused on the wrong things. They treat their customers terribly, they don’t listen to feedback, and they operate with unprecedented arrogance.
SoCreate is hyper focused on our customers. Here’s a short story: Let’s say we had a frustrated customer call our support line (yes, you will be able to call us once we launch our platform) cussing and screaming about their experience using our software. Then, after calming the customer down, we learn they were using our rival’s software and not ours. We would do everything we can to support the customer on our rival’s software. We wouldn’t tell them they’re using our competitor’s software and that we couldn’t support them. We also wouldn’t try to sell them on switching to us. We’d simply do everything we can to help them get past their frustration and achieve their goal. We are in the business of helping people be successful and that is everything we are focused on.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’d quote Joe Dirt of course: “Keep on keepin’ on!”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am super grateful for Rosa Couto, my wife and CFO of SoCreate. She has been by my side helping to drive our vision almost from the beginning. She’s really the only one that will ever understand the sacrifices that have been made to do what we are doing.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We’re currently preparing for our beta launch, and we have more than 16,000 dedicated writers anxiously waiting to get access to our beta trials. The writing community is huge, and we spread the word about SoCreate by creating unique, helpful content on the topic of screenwriting. We’ve spent years integrating ourselves into this community and creating a safe space for writers who want encouragement, positivity, and support. Surprisingly, that’s hard to find online, so we’ve carved out a niche. Where are the gaps? Where are writers’ needs not being met? We’ve built our SoCreate beta testing list by being genuinely helpful when and where writers need it most.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
We are a SAAS model that will require a small monthly fee to use our tools. Our number one goal is to help the writing community be successful and if we do that, we believe they will help make us successful by spreading the word. We have considered many other monetization options, but we always come back to what we feel will be best for the writing community.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Make sure you build an audience for your software long before you launch it. There is nothing more important that building your beta list. You never want to launch a product to the sounds of crickets chirping. Start as early as possible. This is probably the biggest mistake I made when launching my first company. My team and I worked super hard and built an amazing platform only to launch it without much fanfare. It is a mistake I will never repeat.
2. Get feedback as early and as often as you can. Before we started building SoCreate, we interviewed roughly 60 professional screenwriters about their needs and challenges. We listened deeply and only started after we felt we had a really good understanding of the process beyond my own personal experiences. Continue to get feedback during the process.
3. There will be good days and bad days. Only make important decisions on the good days.
4. Be eternally optimistic. You can’t see the opportunities through the fog of pessimism, and there are always opportunities.
5. Never give up. There is always another way. The only reason you won’t be successful is if you stop trying. The end might not be what you had planned or envisioned, but it will be sweet, oh so sweet.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Do the absolute best you can do by being the absolute best you can be. Always treat people how you’d like to be treated in an ideal world.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can find me on twitter at @JustinCouto. SoCreate is also on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Mitch Russo started a software company in his garage, sold it for 8 figures and then went on to work directly with Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes to build a $25M business together. Mitch wrote a book called “The Invisible Organization — How Ingenious CEOs are Creating Thriving, Virtual Companies” and now his 2nd book called Power Tribes — “How Certification Can Explode Your Business.” Mitch helps SaaS company founders scale their own companies using his proprietary system. You can reach Mitch Directly via [email protected]
5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS: “Get feedback as early and as often as you can”… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.