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Mon, Oct 19th
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SixCentral is Changing Names

Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking to SixCentral users, reviewing usage statistics, and digging through hundreds of emails.

After all that work, I finally feel like I have a enough information to create a roadmap that’s inline with my vision for the future.

Simply put, my vision is to deliver something that’s going to change the way designers present their services.

By definition this means, something that’s going to put money in your pocket. Something where you’ll get back much more than you put into it.

I’ll consider it a failure if it does anything less.

Rough outline

So at this point I’d like to share a rough outline of my roadmap for how we’re getting there.

Something you might not know about me is that I own two products: SixCentral & Bidsketch.

SixCentral and Bidsketch are very similar, in fact they’re the same type of product — proposal software for designers and freelancers.

While they’re in the same space, they have very different strengths. They complement each other well. What I’ll be doing is taking the best features of both of them and merging them into a version 2 app.

This is how it’ll work:

  1. There will only be a single product by the name of Bidsketch.
  2. The SixCentral website will be redirected to www.bidsketch.com.
  3. About two months worth of work will take place to merge SixCentral features into Bidsketch.
  4. All active existing SixCentral account information will be automatically transferred over to version 2 of Bidsketch.

You can still log into SixCentral if you already have an account; but only for about two months — the time it will take to merge SixCentral features.

Why did I make this decision?

I’m a big fan of being honest and direct so I’ll be very open about why I’ve made this decision.

  1. SixCentral has a ton of users, but 99% of users have the free account. Not many users feel like they’re getting enough value right now to pay for it.
  2. Bidsketch was released last week and it already has MORE paying users than free users. 15% of users have upgraded from the free account to the paid account in the first week of using it. The value is already there.
  3. It would take a lot more time to merge Bidsketch features into SixCentral than the other way around. Bidsketch is doing some pretty cool things that are very hard to program. The thought of rewriting all of that in another language isn’t very appealing.
  4. In this situation, rebranding is the best way to inject some additional life and enthusiasm into the product.

Now, there’s one thing I want to make clear: the SixCentral team did an awesome job with what they’ve built here. In fact, the features that Bidsketch has, they were planning on adding in the next version. And the features that SixCentral has, I’ll be adding next.

We were essentially taking different approaches to get to the same place.

Bidsketch already gives you more than what you put into it. It’s very focused on one thing — powerful and effective proposal creation.

You can do things like embed images, Flash videos, mix and match sections, and customize almost every part of your proposals.

If you’re interested in checking out Bidsketch now, feel free to do so:

http://www.bidsketch.com

If you take a look now, you’ll notice that it’s more expensive than SixCentral. One thing to keep in mind is that the price will increase even above what you see now. That’s because you get much more back than what you pay.

In any case, even if you want to wait for version 2 features (like invocing), rest assured that all SixCentral users and blog readers will get special pricing. Something close to what you can get now over at Bidsktech.

I think I’ve covered everything I set out to talk about, but if you still have unanswered questions — please feel free to email me:

ruben@bidsketch.com

Thanks!

-Ruben

Sun, Sep 20th
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SixCentral and the Future

I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself, since I’ve not had a chance to do that yet. As Ryan mentioned in his excellent post, my name is Ruben Gamez and I recently reached an agreement to acquire ownership of SixCentral. 

I’m very excited about where I see things heading; SixCentral users are going to find themselves in a great spot. I see so many possibilities in this area. Things that haven’t been done before.

That being said, you can bet everything you’re going to see will be driven by user feedback. 

A little about myself

I apologize if this section is on the short side, but I’ll admit I’m more interested in the part where I talk about SixCentral than anything else. 

I’ve worked in web design for over 10 years using languages like ColdFusion, Java, Groovy, Python, and Ruby. I’ve spent 5 of those years managing web development teams. 

I’m very much into user experience design and believe that clean, simple, but functional user interfaces are the key to great applications. I think design is important; beautiful design is inspiring. 

The future of SixCentral

I’m sure there are a few questions about what this change in ownership means to SixCentral and its users. I’ll try to answer as much as I can next.

What I can tell you right now:

  1. Free accounts will stay as they are, no changes will take place to current proposal, invoicing, and client limits. 
  2. The price of paid accounts for this version of SixCentral will stay the same.
  3. A new version of SixCentral will come out with added features that’ll knock your socks off. The price will probably increase when this happens — pricing for current SixCentral paid users will not change.
  4. There may be additional plan types in the future, you’ll probably see some changes here but existing plans will be honored.
  5. The SixCentral design and user interface will not be going away; we’re off to a great start here and I want to build on this.

While I listed  most of the important items, there are a few important things I haven’t decided on yet but I’ll be reaching out to SixCentral users to help me here. I hope this helps answer most of the questions that you may have. 

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me:

ruben@sixcentral.com

Thanks, and we’ll be in touch soon!

-Ruben

Thu, Sep 17th
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SixCentral is changing ownership

Acquired is probably too big of a word, however it’s actually the truth. Late Tuesday, September 15th 2009, we came to terms with a private bidder on the sale of SixCentral. It’s a bitter sweet day for us, as we’ve been entirely dedicated to the application since February 10th, 2009. Although we’re sad to see it go, we’re also very excited at the new opportunities the sale creates.

Ironically, it was never our intention to sell SixCentral, however over the last month (including the days leading up to the launch), we realized that we just didn’t have the time to devote to our baby.

That said, I’d like to introduce you to Ruben Gamez (http://twitter.com/earthlingworks), the new face of SixCentral. After a week of speaking with Ruben, we felt he was a great fit to take SixCentral in the appropriate direction. He has huge plans for the application as well as a great passion for helping improve the Proposal process. I strongly believe you all will find him as passionate as the prior SixCentral team.

Although this message seems like goodbye, the creators of SixCentral will still be around and on to the next venture. In case you forgot, the team behind SixCentral was:

As for me (Ryan), I will be working closely with Ruben over the next few days to ensure a smooth transition for him to take the reigns of the business. I will most likely be involved in some of the future marketing and promotion campaigns with SixCentral, so this won’t be the last time you hear from me and my affiliation with the business.

We’d like to thank everyone for their support over the last 7 months, as it has definitely been a wild ride. Hopefully we’ll all meet again.

Please make sure to give Ruben a warm, gentle welcome.

- Ryan Scherf, and the rest of the ex-SixCentral team

http://www.ryanscherf.net

Mon, Aug 24th
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Launch Stats & Thanks

First of all, thank you so much to everyone who participated in the launch. We appreciate all of your comments and feedback, and look forward to building some of your ideas for version 2.

Since we’ve always been open and transparent about our app, we wanted to fill all of you in on some of the details of the launch:

(note these statistics are from Aug 10 - Aug 24)

  • 11,873 unique hits
  • 22,129 pageviews
  • 771 user accounts created
  • 223 clients created
  • 106 proposals created & sent to clients

And a special thanks to many of the sites that helped make this possible:

And of course, countless other sites that either featured our site and blogged about us. We wouldn’t have had such great success without all of your support!

Wed, Aug 19th
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Launch Day: What it’s like to launch a new web app

12:30 AM - The app is done

12:35 AM - First user

1:00 AM - Try to fall asleep

2:00 AM - Still awake in anticipation

7:30 AM - Alarm goes off for work. Damn I thought I was launching the app to stop this.

7:45 AM - Try to send e-mail campaign to subscribers. Blocked. Saying we need special approval to send to a list this large. E-mail Campaign Monitor.

8:00 AM - 37signals Product Blog article goes live: Getting Real with SixCentral

8:15 AM - Catch bus downtown

9:00 AM - Get in to office, E-mail Campaign Monitor again trying to get quick approval.

9:30 AM - Informed we shouldn’t do the giveaway to only paying customers (as it’s illegal). Changed the giveaway so everyone is eligible.

9:45 AM - Fuel Your Apps Interview goes live: Behind the App SixCentral

9:55 AM - SSL is acting funny. Redirecting users to odd pages.

10:00 AM - Still no approval, but it’s a blessing in disguise. Found some issues

10:06 AM - SSL fixed.. and broken again

10:35 AM - Non-SSL URL’s are not redirecting to the secure site. This is bad. Freaking out

10:41 AM - Realized I haven’t eated in 16 hours. Starving.

10:47 AM - Redirect is fixed. We’re back in business

11:00 AM - 50 users. Our first mile stone. Still waiting to send out the massive launch e-mail

11:03 AM - Campaign Monitor is up after their security fixes. Incoming e-mails.

11:12 AM - 4 Out of Office replies. They’re missing out. Sad.

12:11 PM - 100 users. Starting to relax

1:07 PM - Finding more and more bugs. Wishing we had a QA team.

2:00 PM - Twitter goes down (second time in 2 weeks). There must be a full moon. Everything is going wrong.

2:17 PM - Have enough paying users to pay for our operating costs. Relief sets in. Let’s hope we can retain them next month.

2:23 PM - Twitter is back. The world begins to turn again.

2:40 PM - Only 20% of people have opened their launch e-mail. Before we were getting 80% open rates. Darn.

4:00 PM - 162 users. Not bad for the first 8 hours.

Day 2

3:00 PM - 300 users. It’s getting sad how often I check the user count. Maybe I should stop. OCD tells me I can’t.

————-

Thought it would be interesting to share my thought process as we launched.

Wed, Aug 12th
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Outline launch plan

You may be asking yourself what we did to promote our app for our launch. I’ll try to outline exactly what we planned for our launch to try to generate customers.

  1. We were open about our development. We’ve actually been promoting for 6 months, gaining support and traction in the community as well as a team of dedicated individuals who were just dying to get their hands on our app. We gathered up hundreds of Twitter followers and e-mail addresses that will be mailed tonight.
  2. We contacted a few blogs that we had prior relationships with, as well as a few where we were looking to develop new relationships. Among these were:
  3. Lastly, we relied heavily on Twitter for everything from support to marketing. We built a great network of dedicated people to help us with the launch, and asked them to help us spread the word.
  4. We gave away an iPhone 3GS. Sure, a lot of our users may have only signed up for the iPhone, but it’s fun to get the word out. Now the challenge is converting those users to actual paying customers.
Tue, Aug 11th
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SixCentral is giving away an iPhone 3GS

If you sign up for the SixCentral Unlimited account between August 10th - 24th, you will automatically be entered to win an iPhone 3GS (well, a $200 Apple gift card that could buy you an iPhone 3GS).

For more information, visit http://sixcentral.com/iphone.

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SixCentral launch is here!

After 6 grueling months of design & development, we’ve finally launched. We began our project on February 10th, 2009 and here we are, 6 months later we finally have completed our initial product. We’d like to thank everyone for their patience and support as we worked on the application. You have truly helped us create a product we can be proud of.

We have so many other features planned, but we felt this was a great first cut at a product that the community can start using.

We are also giving away an iPhone 3GS (or $200 Apple gift card). For more details, go to http://www.sixcentral.com/iphone

For more information on features and pricing, check out http://www.sixcentral.com

Sun, Aug 9th
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Getting Real with SixCentral: How the book by 37signals influenced our app

Let me start by saying that Getting Real by 37signals (https://gettingreal.37signals.com/) has drastically influenced how we chose to build SixCentral. This is a book I would recommend to every single person or shop trying to start their own business, regardless of the business nature.  So many topics apply to everyday aspects of business, not just web apps.

In this post I’ll outline how the SixCentral team was able to take ideas and advice from Getting Real (GR), and apply them to our situations with our app.

What we did well

Create something you would use

GR touches on the foundation of any good web app. Web apps are built to make things easier, and if they can make things easier on you, thats even more of a plus. Luckily for me, I was a freelance designer with a problem. I didn’t have one simple way to manage all of my bids and proposals in an efficient manner. Sure, there are dozens of invoicing apps that probably could have done the trick with estimates and other features, but I wanted something specific. I wanted a structure that was easy to use, but most important repeatable. I was getting tired of copy/pasting from a Draft e-mail sitting in my Gmail inbox. Out came the idea that we could create a repeatable process (importing draft proposals), that could then be customized for any client (via client url’s, passwords, etc) and send to prospects. It was essentially that simple, and something I knew other freelancers desperately wanted but failed to find in other apps.

Less documentation, only features that matter

We began by trying to write down every single feature we could possibly imagine that we thought would be cool in the app. As you can imagine, this was a pretty healthy list. Fortunately for me (Ryan Scherf), the lead developer (Wess Cope) was a huge proponent of what he called ‘feature creep’. Feature creep in a roundabout way is the same as implementing features that just don’t matter. We had great ideas about including an invoicing system that was second to none, an advertising platform for services relating to freelancers and pretty much everything else under the sun. One thing to note here is that this is as far as we went with our documentation — one list. All other requirements were done on the fly, either by me mocking them up in the UI or communication via IM at all hours of the night.

We then went wild on our list; starting to cut out features that were either:

  1. Too time consuming to implement for a first launch without knowing any true value of the feature
  2. Just don’t matter

We ended up with a pretty core set of features we felt were absolute essentials for our initial launch. Sure, we could have added in a ton more fluff, but we didn’t have the time. We wanted to release quickly with the best possible product we could build.  Those features are:

  1. Proposals (create/view/edit/send/import/comment)
  2. Invoices (create/view/edit/send/comment)
  3. Clients (create/view/edit/note/profile)
  4. Calendar (create/edit)
  5. Client portal (view proposal & invoice/comment/accept, postpone or deny)

Let others find workarounds

We knew that every freelancers process wasn’t the same as mine. Perhaps some people wrote their own app to fill in details on a proposal their own way. We were fine with that. We knew that people would use SixCentral for their own needs, whether it was our intended way or not.

A perfect example of letting people work around our system is the Proposals themselves. A Proposal is just a set of multi-line textboxes that support some basic HTML. We broke the Proposals into categories we felt made sense, as well as added one last area: Other. The Other area was our way for accounting for the unknown. Perhaps person A would use this for a link to their NDA. Person B may use it for a link to their own website. It didn’t matter to us — it’s just text in our database, but it provided a great workaround for people that needed just a little extra, less-specific space on each Proposal.

Our demographic was smart enough to use our app in ways we probably didn’t imagine. Ironically enough, we’ve had realtors and plumbers e-mail us about using our app for their own business.

Promote early, offer exclusive looks & release often

From idea to first beta, we spent 1 month designing and developing. This included a blog, a landing page and an app. After 1 month, our beta users could successfully register, create new clients and create new proposals for clients. We immediately began receiving feedback to our GetSatisfaction page. Since at this time it was only Wess and I, we didn’t have time to QA our product. Instead we relied on the early adoption beta testers to help us through this — and they surely did. We fined tuned all of our bugs and requests, and quickly released a second beta which included our ‘client view’, so a user could create a proposal and send it to a client.

We also had a teaser landing page, collecting e-mail addresses the very same night we had the idea. We submitted it to some design galleries (which were conveniently in our niche market), and quickly had hundreds of subscribers awaiting the launch and requesting to help with our betas.

We had one last beta release about a month ago, and are now working on releasing the full product sometime in August.

Self Funded

Fortunately for us, we never had the opportunity for any type of funding. We chose to build the app in our spare time, outside of our day jobs and family life. It was always been a struggle in terms of communication and deadlines, but we’ve pushed through.

Where we went wrong

We missed our own deadlines

Things got in the way, and we had to move some deadlines. We probably didn’t launch as quickly as we would have liked. We lost the enthusiasm as the day jobs started to become overbearing. Ultimately we pushed through, but we could have been more proactive in hitting our marks.

Too many features

We probably have too many features that may not matter to everyone. We added invoicing to our app, but what are the chances that someone will change from InvoiceMachine, FreshBooks or Blinksale to use our solution? Probably not very good. At the time, we felt it was important to at least offer a bare bones invoicing platform in the event we picked up some users that perhaps did EVERYTHING by hand before SixCentral.

Conclusion

After rereading this post, I’ve realized now that our app launch was very successful. Not just because of the number of users, but because we actually did it. We did most things right, with a few things wrong — but we still made it to the finish line. We have a product that we are proud of, and a team we are all thankful for. In the end we made great friends that have similar interests and want to build great apps. For that, we cannot say enough.

If you have questions, comments or thoughts, please feel free to e-mail us at: info@sixcentral.com.

Sun, May 10th
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The Calendar

We’ve just finished putting the final touches on the calendar feature for SixCentral. With the Calendar, you can manually add events for deadlines, follow-ups, reminders and meetings. Also each time you create proposals or invoices with due dates, they will automatically be added to the calendar. We also allow you to set notification preferences for when events are upcoming. For example, you can set a reminder to be e-mailed to you 24 hours before an event is due.

Once you’ve added events, you can easily sync with your Google Calendar or iCal on your Mac. We provide the ability to quickly export your SixCentral calendar to the other services, which you could then sync with your mobile device (ahem, iPhone).

Both on the Dashboard as well as the Calendar page, you will see all upcoming events for that day as well as have the ability to navigate between different days to see all events.

Check out the screen shot below.