Co-Founder, Super Simple Survey
As startups globally tackle the issue of developing lean organizations and stretching funding as far as possible, they reach for consulting guides like The Lean Entrepreneur and The Lean Startup for lessons critical to the execution of a startup idea. Two South Africans, Kevin Rademan and Nicholas McCreath, co-founders of the Super Simple Survey, are shining examples of the ideal entrepreneur.
SABLE’s Dave Kitley connected with Nick McCreath to talk about Super Simple Survey and discuss the origin of the company, the roadblocks of a growing startup, and future insights and plans.
Dave Kitley: Who and what is Super Simple Survey?
Nick McCreath: Basically, there is a huge problem of conducting great surveys. The services out there at the moment are difficult to use and exceptionally unattractive for the people that have to take them. We've created an awesome survey product that's feature-rich but simple to use that allows any person to make a great-looking survey. Just because it's simple doesn't mean it's held back in any way, though. It has a comprehensive list of features and allows users to upload their own backgrounds and logos, and it automatically works on all devices (smartphones, tablets and PCs). Best of all, we have a pretty accommodating free tier that contains all features and caters for a majority of the market.
Dave Kitley: When did you decide to break away and start Simple Survey?
Nick McCreath: We came up with the idea when we noticed quite a few people struggling to create surveys. Kevin [co-founder] and I were pretty frustrated with the user interface. The other thing that came up often was that the surveys looked awful. So together, we grabbed some coffee and talked about it for a while and decided to build something that would be simple to use, feature-rich and look appealing.
Dave Kitley: How long did you work on the idea before going live?
Nick McCreath: I'd been toying with the idea of getting a minimal viable product out and liked the idea of something in the SAAS [software as a service] space. Kevin had been keen on getting stuck on some juicy development work and working on some new technologies and platforms, so we decided to get cracking straight away. We pretty much had discussed the idea in November 2011 and had the MVP out with the first customer survey created in June 2012.
Dave Kitley: Talk me through the process of development. What were the highs and lows?
Nick McCreath: We both have full-time jobs, so we have to be extremely lean and make sure that anything we work on is going to have the maximum amount of benefit to the user with the limited amount of time we have in the evenings. We are both agile enthusiasts and certified in Scrum (CSM and CSPO), so we embraced a "spirit of Scrum" type methodology with a backlog of features that we work on at any given point in time. We mainly discuss ideas over a cup of coffee during lunch breaks that are based off of feature requests.
As to highs and lows, being limited with time gets pretty frustrating when we have a big feature that we are working on as it pushes the release out significantly. A personal high was moving to the Twitter Bootstrap CSS framework as that's saved us a bunch of time. Any time we release a new feature and see it in action, that's the best feeling ever.
Dave Kitley: You mentioned you went as lean as possible with launching. How valuable was this process, and how are you advising other startups?
Nick McCreath: It was invaluable—best lesson ever. It brings in a completely different perspective in how to build and model a product. When bootstrapping, you have no other choice than to be lean; you need the maximum output with the minimum input. In our case, it's not only money, but time as well, which adds a completely different dynamic. An interesting thing about the limitation on time is the aspect of support that you have to worry about. Whenever you are building something, you need to ensure that it is easy to use so you won't have queries about it later. Ensure that it doesn't break as that is disastrous to the experience of the service, and also keep the user informed of what it can't do so you don't get emails saying that they can't find a feature or asking whether or not you have it. Those lessons can't be taught, but you can give guidance to people that are going through the same sort of thing, and that’s what we try to do in our blog (the “Bootstrap Cookbook” post is certainly around this).
Dave Kitley: You identified a pain point with the simplicity of a survey user experience. Do you feel that your offering will start to worry some of your bigger, more global competitors? Do you have a strategy to counter a move by them if they decide to take you out?
Nick McCreath: Not really. I think the larger companies aren't as agile as we are. When you have millions of users, any change has to take a serious amount of consideration, and with legacy systems that weren't necessarily built to scale, it requires weeks of time.
Right now, we believe we can learn from their mistakes and do it right from the start. We are still at a stage that any changes are pretty straightforward and can be made on the fly, which allows us to exploit their flaws and adapt quickly to user pains. We also have a lot of experience in scaling, and Kevin is a superstar at building a modular-based system.
Something I mentioned in a recent article that I think resonates nicely with this is that we'd like to be on the same scale as the larger players—not necessarily for the money, but more for empowering people who need to make use of a survey service but can't due to complications in getting it set up. As long as we are adding value to our customers and are enjoying what we are doing, we'll be fine.
Dave Kitley: How are you rolling out your offering in other markets?
Nick McCreath: Right now, we have our core focus on Super Simple Survey and finishing off a pretty comprehensive list of features before the end of the year. Building the features is only half of it, though; making them highly accessible and easy to use takes a ton of time, and we won't ever compromise on that aspect. While keeping that in mind, we think the system itself has a bunch of different use cases for things such as polls, customer service ratings, form building, etc., so we have been considering how we can build an exceptional product that can tailor to these niche verticals in the future, as well to solve similar pain points.
We have one or two ideas on how we can extend the Super Simple family with complimentary services, and those should come to light next year pretty rapidly. But for right now, they’re top secret.
Dave Kitley: What is your take on the entrepreneurial market in South Africa? What do you feel is necessary to take entrepreneurship to the next level?
Nick McCreath: Kevin and I aren't as involved as we'd like to be in the community due to our limited free time. We keep each other on the go and keep an eye on local publications that are great. We also currently work at an amazing company with some really bright people, so we are lucky enough to gain exposure there.
The one thing that is a problem locally that we struggled with was trying to get the banks to handle international payments. We eventually gave up and are using an international payment gateway [2Checkout]. In our scenario, that has definitely been the biggest hindrance that we've encountered so far, and the whole fiasco set us back about two months to be able to get to a paid subscriber.
Dave Kitley: What platform did you use for your site?
Nick McCreath: We built it from the ground up using Twitter Bootstrap, which is completely responsive. That way, we don't have to worry about what device our user is on as the site resizes according to the size of the browser window.
Dave Kitley: For freelance work (i.e. website hosting and design), what or who would you recommend?
Nick McCreath: We used an outsource designer initially as neither of us is overly design savvy. It is the biggest waste of money when you trying to be lean. I spent a couple months playing around in Photoshop and taught myself while Kevin focused on the development side. Outsourcing is never easy and really is dependent on the task that you need done. They won't feel the same passion for the project as you do, and when you’re on a budget, that can be tricky. There are a lot of great templates available, so I'd recommend using one of those and amending it to your needs.
About Nick McCreath
Nick McCreath is the product innovator. He is passionate about the product development process and all it entails. The way that development, marketing and the user experience are encapsulated within a product is an area of particular interest.
In line with this, he believes that agile methodologies are critical to creating products that users love and can be evangelical about while providing business with the necessary agility for innovation.
For more information, visit http://www.supersimplesurvey.com/.
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