Adapt the business around your customers: Once you get your product out there, you have to be prepared to hear some criticism — some constructive, some less so. That’s inevitable. But if your goal is to provide a product or service that your customers enjoy using, then you have to scour the feedback for something actionable — something you can use to improve the customer experience. And it helps to have different approaches to determine how users interact with your product, not only first-person testimonials but methodical A/B testing of different functions and designs to see which performs best.
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 Nils Engelking from QR-Code-Generator.com, powered by Egoditor. Nils Engelking has a Bachelor of Arts in International Business from the University of Applied Sciences in Bielefeld, Germany. Growing up in an entrepreneurial environment, it was always his dream to found a company of his own. At work, his specialties include strategic planning as well as organizing teams to help them achieve their goals. Outside of work, he likes to spend time with family and friends or ride his bike in the mountains around his home.
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?
Thank you for having me. The idea for Egoditor all started from a series of recurring conversations co-founder Nils Drescher and I had in college. We’ve known each other since we were teens, lost touch to pursue different academic interests, and reconnected later during our studies. He was a programmer and I was studying international business, and it didn’t take long for us to realize that we both had at least one goal in common — to form an Internet startup. After we figured we’d done enough talking, we decided to go for it and founded our first SaaS company in 2009, a homepage editor under the name of Egoditor.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The homepage editor was not performing as well as we had hoped, and there was already stiff competition in the field that had many more resources. But Drescher always had an eye out for technology trends and QR Codes were a special side project of his at the time. We started by creating a website with a free QR Code Generator tool that offered basic QR Code functions, such as linking to a URL when scanned. Our very first request came from a major manufacturer of musical instruments that wanted to send a text message via QR Code.
That’s when we had an “Aha” Moment and realized that businesses were looking for new ways to connect with their customers. Everyone wants a way to connect print material with digital, which is exactly what QR Codes do. We did the market research, talked to business representatives, and then did a complete turnaround to focus the company exclusively on creating and generating QR Codes as well as optimizing their use in marketing campaigns.
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?
Well, it’s not so much of a ‘hard times’ story, but we knew when we decided to pivot the company that we were taking a major risk. I mean, what if our market research was wrong? What if demand fizzled out after the first couple of years? What if better technology replaced the need for our service? Yet we still believed in the simplicity of using QR Codes to connect offline and online mediums, and we had learned from past experience how effective they can be when done right. We saw that as our chief task: to better inform users on how to use the Codes effectively and make it easy and exciting for them to do so.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Many of the insecurities we had at the beginning have faded. I think the fact that the Codes are still around today — 25 years after being invented — proves they have staying power. Our own research shows that interest in QR Codes has been steadily increasing since 2011, and if current demand is any indication, then our conviction in their potential was justified. Besides, “giving up” has never been part of our vocabulary. So really the only option for us was to trust our instincts and stay the course.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When Drescher and I made our first hire ever as an official company, we were so excited and got so caught up with our big plans that we actually forgot to order a chair for our new coworker. On his first day, he just kind of hovered by the door before we realized he had nowhere to sit. We laugh about it now, but this awkward situation taught us to pay closer attention to the details, especially when it comes to providing the right tools for the job at hand.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think a big part of what makes us unique as a company is our diversity. Because we aim to make our product available to anyone in the world, we are always on the lookout for international talents. Nearly ⅔ of the team come from another country, and our employees speak eight languages in total. To fit in with our company culture, you have to embrace new perspectives and value differences while working toward a common goal. You have to be culturally aware. It makes an exciting place to work, but also comes with some quirks. For example, some of our team members are from South America, where it’s more common to take a siesta. So we equipped a room with a couple of beds to accommodate this. We figured, hey, we know they work hard. If that’s what they need to recharge and be productive, we’re more than happy to provide it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Trying to avoid getting burnout in a startup is a bit like trying to avoid yawning in a crowd of sleepy people. You’ve got to keep pinching yourself mentally to remember to take breaks, spend time with family and refresh your energy stores. But if you consciously make an effort to stay balanced every day, then you reduce the risk of being out-of-order for a longer time.
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?
For the first product, the homepage editor, we had some business angels as shareholders on board. Although we didn’t get along very well and “divorced” after a year or so, they taught us some very valuable lessons we are grateful for. Without that phase, we wouldn’t be where we are now.
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 currently have more than six million people who signed up for our service, otherwise, we can’t give more details. But out of that, we have generated quite a large customer base. I think this is largely due to 1) offering a free generator tool, 2) international scaling, and 3) offering custom options and pricing for our enterprise customers, who usually got their first taste of the software through the free service.
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?
Our model is two-fold:
First, we offer a free generator tool for our most basic types of QR Codes, for example, to direct someone to a specific URL, send an SMS or e-mail, create a vCard, log onto WiFi or transfer Bitcoin.
To create more complex types such as PDF, Video, Image Gallery or App Store, with full customization options and editable even after printing — we call those Dynamic QR Codes — we offer a subscription service with different pricing packages based on a company’s needs.
For instance, individuals may require just one simple, unchanging QR Code for one-time use, and for that, a subscription doesn’t usually make sense. But our enterprise customers may create thousands of Dynamic Codes with different applications for each, such as placing a video on their product packaging, a PDF how-to guide on a user’s manual or a coupon to promote a holiday sale. They need a reliable way to create and brand their Codes and strategically monitor their campaign’s success.
Our standard plans have a yearly subscription length, as we have quite low prices overall. Only for our enterprise customers, where we have considerably higher prices, can we offer our service on a monthly basis.
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.
- Work on something fundamental: You don’t need to try to reinvent the wheel with the x version of another email client or yet another social media app to create a successful SaaS, instead work on giving your customers something basic that they can use in their everyday lives and businesses and focus on making it the best possible experience for them to use it.
- Don’t be afraid to go against the grain: We think QR Codes are one of the most fundamental technologies in modern web and mobile marketing today. There are many people who think or who have thought differently in the past about QR Codes, and it’s true to a certain extent that they started out a bit ahead of their time. Now with more than 3 billion smartphone users, phones with native QR Code readers, and better mobile marketing strategies, they have come back in a big way. And that’s what’s important to remember: As an entrepreneur, you want to find something that many have a different opinion about, otherwise you’ll end up in the very crowded marketplace. And if the product or service is truly fundamental, then it’s logical to see it as a huge opportunity.
- Stay agile: This word gets tossed around a lot, but for anyone trying to build a SaaS from scratch, it definitely rings true. You may only have an idea at the beginning, but you can’t be so focused on this idea that you ignore well-meaning feedback. Especially at the building stage, you have to be quick to react to suggestions, market research, and customer insights. And you have to be prepared to adjust your grand idea according to this new information.
- Adapt the business around your customers: Once you get your product out there, you have to be prepared to hear some criticism — some constructive, some less so. That’s inevitable. But if your goal is to provide a product or service that your customers enjoy using, then you have to scour the feedback for something actionable — something you can use to improve the customer experience. And it helps to have different approaches to determine how users interact with your product, not only first-person testimonials but methodical A/B testing of different functions and designs to see which performs best.
- Be prepared to kill your darlings: Sometimes you have to take a step back and reevaluate your progress in a certain area and be brutally honest when a project isn’t going anywhere. In our case, it really helps that we have two founders, each with a different background and perspective. Drescher and I are able to balance each other out and if one of us is too invested in a certain area, the other can help him be more objective and make the changes that are needed, even if it means starting over.
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. 🙂
I’m a big proponent of universal basic income. I think it’s inevitable, given the rise of digital automation and artificial intelligence, that many of the jobs we know today won’t exist in the future, or at least not in the same capacity. If that’s the case, then my movement would urge society to change the way it cares for its most vulnerable. So that no one has to go empty-handed, even if they lose their jobs to automation. I think a guaranteed minimum income can be a great solution if done right and benefit the most people, though it’s probably something only governments can establish.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS, With Nils Engelking of Egoditor was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.