Parents: This is What Your Founder of a Son Does

So what's Anthony up to these days?

I could have made it easy on my parents.  I could have become a chef -- I did chefs training after I left college.  I could have become a Preschool Teacher -- I worked in a preschool (children aged 4-5) for two years.  But no, I made it difficult and decided to...well, ah, how do I explain?

Them: So what do you do for a living Anthony?
Me: I build web apps
Them:  Ah, so like web design?
Me: Sort of.  I build online tools that people use.
Them:  Like what - Google?
Me: No.  For example, one tool I built sends people reminders.
Them: Oh ok (I still have no idea what the hell you actually do)

20 minutes later, they will eventually get the idea.  But what they never grasp is what actually goes into each day.  For them, they see a web app and think its finished, a complete product, and all I do is screw around tweeting all day.

Well as the ultimate guide for my parents, here is what I do (and so do many other founders):

Concept Creation and Product Design

This is the bread and butter of what a founder needs to do.  Product Design is not as simple as just coming up with an idea and asking someone to build it.  That would be awesome.  But no, product design involves a lot more.  If I want a new feature added to an app like Task.fm, I first need to sketch out the basic concepts (what it does), then mock it up (create wireframes of how the user will interact), figure out how much it will cost to create, decide what resources will go towards the feature, and then figure out how it will be developed (time frame, who will do it, code structure etc.).

I come up with new features for existing apps and concepts for new apps.  Many don’t go into production, but that’s just part of the process.  I do this everyday.

Design (graphic and UI)

Some founders are programmers, some are designers and some are marketers.  Although I do code, I don’t do it all.  However, pretty much all the design work on my apps is done by me.  It could be a banner ad, it could be a logo, or maybe an entire interface.  There is always plenty of design work to be done.

When I’m in the zone, an app will get updated 20-30 times a week with very slight changes.  A lot of the time users don’t even realize.  But even before these changes go live, designs will be tested and feedback gathered.

Of course, I also do all the designs on the Dev List.

Customer Support

An app like Task.fm, that has thousands of users, will obviously need a fair bit of support.  Part of my job is to answer customer emails, tweets and calls.  Be it questions, comments, complaints, feature requests or just a “good job”, they need a response.

But customer support isn’t just about responding to customers, its also about going out and connecting with current and future customers.  That means maintaining a presence of social networks, keeping up to date with blogs, and joining in communities that relate to my products.

Someone i.e me, also needs to write the help documentation and responses to the FAQ

Book Keeping

I could hire an accountant (i’ll need one to do my taxes) but because of the way I bootstrap my company, I do most of the book keeping myself.  This means logging expenses and income and generally being a spreadsheet nazi.  Not exactly the most enjoyable part of my job, but I don’t dread it.

I also am responsible for paying developers and bloggers and other team members.  So I guess I do HR stuff as well.

Marketing

You may call it blogging, I call it brand building.  Developing a blog, posting video tutorials, working on cross promotions and special offers are all part of what I believe is marketing a web app.  As I spend very little on advertising, this is the marketing that I rely on to grow the apps.

Project Manager

Building a web app is like a putting together a puzzle that has to be done in a specific order.  On a big project, there will be multiple developers and designers working on different parts of the application.  My job is to make sure they all come together nicely.  Sometimes I need to speed certain parts up and other times I need to slow things down so pieces end up fitting together in the right order.

As a project manager, I need to be able to effectively communicate with developers on the other side of the world.  I travel and  I also work with a virtual team.  This means almost no face to face conversations (apart from video chat).

The Business Model

Somewhere, in between all these different roles, I need to ensure that the app has a revenue stream.  This is a business after all.  Sometimes, I will develop an app as a hobby, but even these projects have a rough business model that could be implemented.

Developing a business model involves a lot of testing.  I had no idea how to price an app when I first started, but after lots of testing, and reading as much as I could on the subject, I got much better at it.

After implementing a business model, you need to track everything.  How many users are converting, how long do they stay a member, how often do they use the app etc.

The Randomness

Every week, some random job seems to come my way.  Like having to learn how to quickly edit video, because the Today Show needed some broll footage (which did end up getting shown!) or trying to keep my cool while negotiating a partnership with a multi-national corporation (that eventually never saw the light of day).    Even things like writing a privacy policy stumped me - before having to do it, I never even thought about it.

There is no guide book on this type of work, you don’t learn how to do this with your MBA.  You just have to get out there and do it.

So That is What I Do

I know Parents, that doesn't really help.  Just tell people I'm a web designer.

photo by: espresso marco

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