Make sure you take time to de-risk your assumptions. Think you’re right? Prove it. Take a poll. Get off your butt, get off your chair and go out and speak to potential clients BEFORE you build. Don’t worry, no, there’s no conspiracy to steal your idea. Don’t be paranoid. Just go out, don’t be afraid, and do it. No matter what you learn, you’ll be able to use the experience to either build a superior product or service, or you will have saved yourself a ton of time. I went out a did this myself, and saved myself a lot of time because I discovered something I could never have known, simply by speaking to a potential client.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joshua Weiss. Josh is the CEO of TeliApp, a software technology company based in Linden NJ. They developed a SAAS product called Fetch Internet, which gets the Internet access from a smartphone to a Mac or Windows computer without a hotspot. The consumer version is available on the App Store and Google Play by visiting fetchinternet.com, and their enterprise version, which has additional cyber-security defense, is used by law firms, hospitals, insurance companies and federal contractors nationwide.
Thank you so much for joining us Josh! 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?
Sure thing! I started the company with my CTO, Ian Mathieson during the Spring of 2012. We had raised $15k in a friends and family round, which we could only use for computers and basic expenses. No money for salaries or overhead, like many other startups, and so we worked out of Panera Bread in Edison NJ! We’d buy a cup of coffee, show up when they opened and stay until they closed.
Our goal was to develop something special that would be useful and meaningful to many people. Unlike other companies that focus hard on raising a large round, we funded the vast majority of our product development by building software for other companies. Some of our clients include Walmart, Barnes & Nobles, 7-Eleven, Delta Airlines, American Airlines and United airlines.
It’s been a long journey, and we’re glad to have a useful product that is making money.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Absolutely. So at that Panera, they restrict Internet usage between 11:30am and 1:30pm to a 30 minute session. So basically, for an hour and a half, you couldn’t use the Internet. At the time we weren’t so concerned with Internet security, so the focus was just getting access. And so we basically just suffered, sometimes I’d bring in my Mac and my Windows machine, so I’d only be offline for an hour. But this really was a problem for productivity. I had a hotspot, but quite frankly, it sucked. Not enough data for the money, and the speed was absurdly slow, and the connection was always unstable. I tried all the major carriers and experienced the same thing.
But it wasn’t until after we became Federal Contractors for the U.S. Government that we became obligated to keep what is now called the protection of Controlled Unclassified Information, or CUI under a regulation called NIST 800 171. Long story short, every vertical has their data privacy laws. Medical has HIPPA. Attorneys have privilege. Education has FERPA. Federal Contractors have CUI.
So now we couldn’t even use Panera’s public WiFi at all! So to solve this problem for us, my CTO whipped up an app that he installed on our smartphones and our computers that enabled us to bring the Internet access from our smartphones to our computers, without a hotspot. Fast, stable, inexpensive (free) and convenient. And I’ve been using it ever since.
About three years ago I was at a DOD networking event and casually brought up this app, which we now call Fetch Internet, up during conversation. Jaws dropped and everyone in that conversation was begging me to install the app on their smartphones and computers.
And then I thought, hmmmmmmmmm. Why did we not think that this might be useful to anyone else?? So the process to bring this app ready for the consumer market was painful. Storyboards, design — everything had to be thought of. The app had never been pretty — it just worked. We had to make sure that the installation process was flawless, that the user experience was always approaching 100% and that usage was essentially “idiot proof”. All the while we planned our sales and marketing strategy, planned some pilot programs, it was quite a journey. Now the product has been used for over a year and the feedback is always amazing.
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?
Yep. I’ll tell you about the great exodus of 2013, when we were basically told by that Panera that we couldn’t operate our business out of a fast casual chain. It was really sad for us. I guess we kinda had it coming? I mean, we would sometimes accept FedEx deliveries to that location! One time we brought in a flatscreen and gave a presentation to a client on the big table in the back. Eventually, as much as they loved us (I mean, I would sometimes hop behind the counter and help their new cashiers add in information into the notes on orders like “extra pickles in the salad” — we knew their POS system better than they did), the manager said that their regional manager didn’t like it when he’d see us huddled in the corner with only a cup of coffee on our tables along with $10k worth of computer equipment.
So Starbucks were too loud, the mall was even louder, Barnes & Nobles didn’t have any outlets. And we didn’t have enough money for rent. Even coworking spaces weren’t a good fit for us. For a while, we were rotating between locations. Things got dark pretty quick. We had recently gotten some new recruits who were thinking about sweat equity, but this incident pushed them away.
But when there’s a will, there’s a way. And sometimes, you need a drop of luck. I was talking about this with an older friend from my synagogue, who just happens to own the building in which is law office is located. He said he had a few extra rooms, and would be happy to help me out. And…. we’ve been there ever since!
I’m not a person who gives up. A CEO is just a fancy word for sales person and problem solver. If I wasn’t going to fix this problem, then nobody else was. When you focus on something, devote your energies to it, solutions present themselves (to quote Obi-Wan).
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Running a startup is akin to riding a roller coaster that you have some control over. Things can go up and down, but as long as you’re making progress and hitting milestones, you’re doing well. One small client led to another smaller client, which led to a larger client and finally we were doing business with some pretty big companies. We got the attention of some amazing angel advisors, which led to us completing a $250k pre-seed round, which really helped us get our house in order. This gave us the bandwidth we needed to complete our product, complete our gtm strategy and start generating real revenues from our own service.
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?
Ooooh. This one really sucked. So Fetch Internet wasn’t the first app we built for ourselves. Back in 2014, one of our Android smartphone test devices broke — the power button stopped working. And on my way to the garbage can to throw it out, Ian says to me “don’t throw it out — I’ll write an app that tricks the Android into thinking that the volume button is the power button.” Oh, great! I thought. He finished it a couple of hours later, it worked and it saved us a couple of hundred dollars, saving the smartphone from becoming a useless paperweight.
And I innocently thought… “wonder if anyone else ever had this issue!” And so we spent a few more hours making it look pretty, and without even thinking about it, published it on Google Play. For free. Now what we didn’t know when we did this was that once you publish an app on Google Play for free, you can’t change the price and make it cost money. In hindsight, this was possibly the stupidest thing I ever did. Because, the app has had over 1.4 million downloads since then, and is the most popular app in its category. If you type in “power button to volume button”, you’ll see it. Even at $0.99, this one little app could have funded our entire development enterprise and then some. And I’ve heard the argument “oh, maybe if you would have charged for it, nobody would have downloaded it.” And to that I say — just the opposite. I think people are happy to spend a buck for something that brings them value and saves them hundreds of dollars — I think we may have received even more downloads had we charged for it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Be balanced. Entrepreneurs are a bit psychotic. I know the type, and it takes one to know one. The best thing I can recommend to other entrepreneurs is to do their best to lead a balanced life. Eat regularly, don’t just snack on crap-food all day long. Work out three times a week. Entrepreneurs are usually CEOs, and CEOs are really sales people. Sales people need to look good and be at the top of their game, all the time. You are literally what you eat. I belong to CrossFitKOA in Mountainside, NJ. I don’t see the time I go there a time lost from work, but rather as a way to infuse my body with what it needs so that I can be at peak efficiency at all times. Get lots of sleep. Yes. I know. But you need to. If you don’t get enough sleep, then your body will fall apart and your mind will not function properly. 6 hours minumum, and preferably 8 to 10. Trust me, your 10 hour- work days with that much sleep will be far more productive than your 16-hour work days with 4 to 6 hours of sleep. If you’re a family person, go home. Be with your spouse or partner. Play legos and Minecraft with your kids. Watch StarWars and Marvel movies and Mystery Science Theatre 3000 with them. You’d be surprised what little nuggets your brain will start to realize from watching them interact with you.
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?
My parents are the best role models I could ever ask for. My mother’s genius creativity combined with my father’s brilliance and steadfast patience makes them a powerful and formidable team. I’ve done my best to replicate their behavior, with some success. But I still make mistakes. My father likes to tell me “Josh, smart people learn from their own mistakes, but geniuses learn from the mistakes of others.” And then he adds “And you Josh, are no genius.” He likes to tell me this when he told me the action that he recommended I take to an problem I needed help solving, and of course I did the exact opposite of his recommendation because “I thought I could get it done my way” even though he once had a similar situation that he solved a different way. Over the years I’ve come to understand that my parents and other advisors are rarely wrong, and even though it goes against my initial nature, over the last few years I’ve reconditioned my response to be more receptive, and seen more success than ever. Great movie that every entrepreneur should watch is an old documentary called “What the BLEEP do we know.” All about reprogramming our minds.
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?
Yep. So we have just over 10,000 consumer downloads, which we attribute to partnerships with economy and value hotel chains. See, their franchise owners have to pay about $2k per month for high-speed Internet access for their guests. Not to mention they don’t want to get sued if there’s ever a data-breach on their public WiFi network. So we put table tents with information about the Fetch app in their rooms. The pitch is pretty simple. Fast, stable and secure Internet access for your computer for a one-time download fee. Use it anywhere. Hotels, coffee shops, trains, planes, airports — anywhere. So we get downloads from educating potential consumers through those hotel partnerships.
We’ve been actively selling the enterprise version, and has about 2,000 paying enterprise subscribers. These contracts are different. We actively approach a law firm, for example. Point out that they’re paying over $50/month per user for external SIM modems for their employees, and that the Internet access their giving their employees is slow, throttled and unstable. A less expensive service that offers fast, stable, secure Internet access for your computer anywhere on the planet? It’s a fairly quick sale. We’re so sure about it that we give a 90-day free evaluation period. Best way for interested parties to get in touch with us is by emailing us.
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?
The consumer version is a one-time download fee. We lower the price sometimes for special offers, but it’s usually around $9.99. The enterprise version is $6.99/month per user.
We’ve considered and tried other monetization strategies. For now, this seems to be working well. We may need to adapt if the market changes; we were thinking to deeply discount the app if hotel chains wanted to offer a redemption code to their rewards members to get it for free, stuff like that. We’ll see. We’re open to new ideas.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- You’ve got to make yourself a pitch deck. Not a deck explaining how it works. A deck. Pitch yourself as if you were pitching a potential lead or investor. If you can’t convince yourself, then you’re not going to convince anyone else. Problem, solution, addressable market, milestones, sales and marketing. If you’re going to build a business, then this should be the first step. I showed a deck to an angel investor who ended up becoming one of my most trusted advisors. I was somewhat crushed when he said — “Josh, you’re too scattered. Focus down and do one thing really well.” But he was right. My deck sucked. But I have a copy of it, and I look at that original deck once a year to remind myself to stay focused and be true to the mission.
- Make sure you take time to de-risk your assumptions. Think you’re right? Prove it. Take a poll. Get off your butt, get off your chair and go out and speak to potential clients BEFORE you build. Don’t worry, no, there’s no conspiracy to steal your idea. Don’t be paranoid. Just go out, don’t be afraid, and do it. No matter what you learn, you’ll be able to use the experience to either build a superior product or service, or you will have saved yourself a ton of time. I went out a did this myself, and saved myself a lot of time because I discovered something I could never have known, simply by speaking to a potential client.
- Network and make sure you have a good pool of advisors. Don’t ask how. You’re an entrepreneur. Figure it out. If you can’t do this, then this job isn’t for you. Hint — networking events.
- Make sure you have an excellent team working with you. Remember, you’re a sales person. Who’s building your tech? Who’s documenting it? Who’s testing it? Ian, my CTO is a brilliant mathematician. But his resume sucked. He had “driver” as the latest job he had been doing, and neglected to put in that he had recently developed a game app using an algorithm that was based on semantic reasoning and his doctoral research of bifurcation theory. When you consider who’s going to help you, leave no stone unturned.
- Pro-tip. Don’t skip steps! Entrepreneurs will know what this means. It’s tempting. Because we think we know better and can cut out all the crap in the middle. I know. But…. don’t. The whole thing is a process. And you need to go through that process in order to be successful. Imagine you’re going to the gym to build muscle. And someone offers you steroids. At first, you think, why wouldn’t you want a little help to move things along more quickly? And when you hear about the side effects, you think, nah, that won’t happen to me. But the muscle you build using drugs won’t last, and neither will a half-baked-executed business. Go through the process. Learn from your mistakes. Do better next time. Don’t be scared of failure and don’t let your own ego rob you from true success.
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. 🙂
Cord cutting. I’m not just saying this because we’re obviously self-served because we sell an app that enables this, but I am thinking real disruption here. Using our product can help third-world countries without wired infrastructure, and can save people in our country thousands of dollars, make their lives easier and far less complicated.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@teliapp on facebook, twitter and Instagram, but best way is to find me on LinkedIn and send me a friend request.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Was a pleasure. Thanks for having me, and I hope my stories are helpful!
“5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SAAS”, With Joshua Weiss, CEO of TeliApp was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.