SherpaDesk is a cloud based customer support solution that lets you and your staff track time and create invoices from one integrated application.
Below is the full interview that we have conducted with Mr. Clements regarding his start-up “SherpaDesk.com”;
1. What is it exactly that you do and what “SherpaDesk” is all about?
SherpaDesk, a pay-for-what-you-use helpdesk solution. Its ‘First Tech is Free’ and utility priced model is aimed to provide organizations with a cost effective way to provide personalized customer support. We simplify the mess in tracking customer support issues and managing time and billing in one easy to use application.
2. When has “SherpaDesk” been founded? And what stage is “SherpaDesk” currently at?
bigWebApps was founded in 2001 and has suite of web based applications. Our first solution bigWebApps HelpDesk is a web based help desk and asset management solution targeting mid-tier businesses and government organizations. SherpaDesk is in private BETA and expects to launch in July of 2012. We are a self-funded startup.
3. What is “SherpaDesk” business model and how does it work?
SherpaDesk will be offered on the freemium model. With the ‘first technician is always free’ and limited usage of the application businesses will be able to sign up and use the SherpaDesk platform for free. Once organizations begin to grow into the system then SherpaDesk billing will be done on a utility based model. No forced pricing plans or bundled rates.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
SherpaDesk is founded by Patrick Clements (CEO) and Jon Vickers (CTO). Patrick and Jon met in college and started a network integration company out of their college apartment. In 2001 they launched an application development company called bigWebApps with Patrick managing the marketing and operations and Jon managing the development.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
We really have three main differentiators:
Email Parser – The ability to perform most functions over email.
Time and Billing –A flexible time and billing platform which will allow businesses to create unique billing plans.
Utility Priced Model –Bill for what you use. This will allow the system to scale economically.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has “SherpaDesk” achieved so far?
bigWebApps has over 100,000 users and has customers in 8 different countries. SherpaDesk is still in private beta. We expect to have a public launch by July or August of 2012. We have fully engineered the application to be delivered on our own custom built framework. There are no paying customers to date, but have approximately 150 beta testers.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is “SherpaDesk”’s competitive advantage over them?
A few notables in the space would be ZenDesk, Desk.com, and Track-It. SherpaDesk’s platform will allow organizations to create a custom web support portal to track and service their customer’s requests. With its integrated time and billing feature personal service firms will be able to accurately document and invoice their customers in real time.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
The first one would be the easiest to recognize which is lack of capital. We have used internal cash funds from existing application sales of the bigWebApps HelpDesk system and extended bank line credit to help fund the development and marketing of SherpaDesk.
The second biggest obstacle is awareness. We have leveraged social media and third party app stores to help promote the launch. We anticipate roughly 200 BETA testers to provide the initial feedback on usability.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Most people don’t understand opportunity vs. stability. Entrepreneurship is a professional category reserved fort those willing to take a lot of risk and deal with some negativity to pursue their passion. Most of the world works for companies who provide jobs with benefits, consistent salaries, possible growth opportunities within the company, etc.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
Success is about converging sweat with opportunity. There is a large market opportunity of small to medium size businesses that need an affordable, easy to use client support tool to assist in tracking billable time. That is the opportunity. Developing software for over 10 years funded only on organic growth and internal cash flow. That is the sweat.
11. If “SherpaDesk” succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
Right now we are not looking for any vertical growth with our solution. The next phase of SherpaDesk past adoption will be horizontal integration to complimentary third solutions. SherpaDesk will use APIs and web hooks to exchange data with common market applications such as accounting, CRM, bug tracking, project management and asset inventory.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build “SherpaDesk” based on?
SherpaDesk roots start with its founders Jon Vickers and Patrick Clements who started a network integration and IT support company out of their apartment in college. Designing a web based help desk and asset management solution was done to help support their existing business and improve the level of service to their customers.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
Launching a startup is a roller coaster of emotions which takes a lot of dedication. There is a reason the failure rate for most startups is high. It’s not for the faint of heart who thinks that just a brilliant idea is going to launch the next billion dollar company. It is a grind. However, if it’s something that you truly love then it’s truly satisfying.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
I believe support is going to be our biggest enemy right now. The depth and complexity level of our solution is very encompassing. We are providing a lot of functionality that will help cover 90% of most small business needs. While this is a great solution to a large market it does come at a price.
15. What’s the benefit for the user?
SherpaDesk is going to be able to provide a ‘one stop’ shop for small to medium size businesses to affordably provide a fully functional client support solution to their customers. They will be able to track and monitor their customers support issues, log and bill time for service, pay employees for support hours and keep track of multiple projects.
16. How did customers and/or users find out about you?
Most of our users have found out about SherpaDesk by either social media/Twitter or by the Google Chrome store. We have doing additional lead nurturing through monthly newsletters and email blasts updating the progress of development. Press Releases have been another great tool which has helped get us additional recognition.
17. Who are your current users? Who are your target users?
We currently have a large range of users from IT professionals, software developers, healthcare and government. We will be focusing our marketing efforts towards small to medium sized business who need a client service tool to help with support, time tracking and billing. Network Integrator and IT support professionals will be our niche market we will beach head to expand into other markets needing a client support tool.
18. Where do new users come from and what makes new users try you?
90% of our users will be coming from the web via Bing or Google, Chrome store, or other third party market places listing business applications. We will be offering a low friction sale allowing users to simply self sign up, self set up and self support themselves. The registration experience will allow them to personalize their solution immediately.
19. What do your users say about your product and/or service?
Initial feedback has been great. They really like the aspect of the customized support portal and the extensive integration of the application with email. They also like the depth of functionality and the ability to provide personal customization to the solution. We have seen that the self signup and setup process has allowed most users to immediately start accepting support issues from their clients.
20. How are you going to scale?
We will be focusing on delivering the application based on lowering our total cost of ownership (TCO). We will drive traffic to our site using social media, pay-per-click and search engine optimization strategies. We will look to partner and market through complimentary third party solutions by integrating through their public APIs.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers keep asking for?
We have two main requests. A mobile version and public APIs. We expect to have the mobile version launch shortly after the public launch. Our APIs are a work in progress and will be strong focus on the next phase of our strategy. We will continue to develop our public APIs as well as integrate into complimentary third party solutions.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Being a web native solution we have the ability to scale internationally by design. Our focus on launch will be to target the United States. As we scale we will look to open up and market to new international territories. Europe is our second largest presence and we will look to explore this market once we have established a good foothold in the United States.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We are launching into a $30 Billion dollar small business market. The growth of independent contractors and small businesses are on the rise as technology and communication allow for people and businesses to be more productive with less. We plan on aggressively attacking the market with an easily accessible, affordable and highly useful application.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We currently are not hiring for any open positions. Once we launch we will be evaluating our support needs and could look to bring on support and application demo specialists to help meet customer’s requests. We have also set up most of our development capabilities off shore. We are looking to bring on a Project Manager/Application Developer local to help coordinate the off shore development team.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
SherpaDesk is self-funded by internal cash flows. Based on the size and type of our market we are going to need a substantial injection of capital to fully take advantage of the market. We will be looking to opportunities to partner with the right VC to help accelerate our growth. Potential investors can always reach me by email or phone.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Be passionate about what you are doing. Find good, smart people who share this passion and are willing to go to war with you. You don’t always have to go ‘all in’. The good surfers, the ones who know the game wait for the right time to grab the right wave.
27. Finally, do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Designing and marketing SherpaDesk has been the most rewarding time I have spent with bigWebApps over the last 11 years. We have accumulated all of the things we have learned both mistakes and successes and baked them into a simple ready to use application. Focusing on the branding has been a riot. We are trying to figure out how to incorporate a Yeti.