What do you get when you mix a client's need to organize business contacts and data from many sources with your own a wish for more family-friendly workplaces? If you're an enterprising individual like Pamelo O'Hara, the answer is a business that solves a common small business problem and offers an accommodating workplace to its own employees.
The business -- Batchbook -- is a cloud-based CRM (customer relationship management) solution that was designed to be easy and affordable to use for small businesses. The software features full contact details management, social integration, a to-do list, advanced search features, list building and reporting. It can be used by individuals or teams.
The idea for Batchbook came to Pamela in 2006 shortly after she moved from Washington, DC to Rhode Island with her husband and two children. An expert in web development and computer application development, Pamela had been the cofounder of a business that provided web applications to nonprofits when she lived in DC. After she moved to Rhode Island, she began providing consulting services to local small businesses.
The CEO of one of those small businesses asked Pamela to find a web-based electronic contact management system that could be used to by a small business to store and manage contacts and keep track of contact interactions and conversations. When she couldn't find anything affordable and easy to learn that did everything the client wanted to do, Pamela decided to start her own business and develop the kind of contact management solution the client was looking for.
"I had been wanting to start a technology business and do something that would help small businesses succeed, so when I saw this need, I went out and hired a couple of people to build the product," says Pamela. "Two months later I found out I was pregnant with my third child."
Attracting A Client Base
As any experienced business owner can tell you, developing a product is just one step in turning it into a business. To become a profitable business you have to get the right people to know about and use what you sell.
Pamela launched the beta version of Batchbook at a DEMO Conference, and then launched the commercial version in 2008. The company's first paying customer ("Other than my mother," Pamela adds with a laugh), was a cleaning company in Texas. The consulting client whose need originally sparked the idea for Batchbook signed up before long, too.
The DEMO conference wound up getting a lot of publicity for Batchbook in publications like Entrepreneur and Newsweek. "The blurbs in the media about Batchbook being geared for small business needs brought us a lot of early traffic," Pamela says.
"We did a lot of social media, too. We came of age at the right time - and were able to use twitter and twitter chat to talk about the product. That got us a lot of word-of-mouth using social media tools," she adds.
Using social media helped the Batchbook team improve the product, too. "We started building integrations to social media tools into our product since we were tackling the same problem in building our business that our customers wanted to use Batchbooks for in their own businesses."
Today, Batchbook is a global businsess with 20 employees and tens of thousands of clients from around the world. The majority of the company's clients have 10 or fewer employees and less than 1,000 contacts. They use the product for everything from keeping up with and tracking engagement with their social media contacts to finding the answers to questions like "show me all my male customers who wear size 11 shoes."
The product integrates with a number of marketing, communications, social media and accounting programs to help its clients be more productive. Although the product competes with Salesforce, it differs, says Pamela, because it's much simpler to use and was built from the ground up with very small businesses in mind.
Taking Care of Business And Kids, Too
Launching a new business is a demanding task for anyone. But launching, nurturing and growing that business when you have a baby on the way, a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old who also need your attention would seem like a project far too intimidating to tackle to most people. But not to Pamela.
"It's about priorities, but the priorities are always shifting, and you have to be OK with that," says Pamela. "I think of my business as another child. I love it no more nor less than my other children," she explains.
"The business is not more or less important than my children. I have three young children and it's very important that I give them the attention they need. I have 20 employees plus their spouses and families who are depending on me for their livelihood, so it's important that I give my business the attention it needs, too."
For Pamela, giving the business the attention it deserves has, at times, meant taking phone calls during dinner. For a while, too, when the children were younger, it meant keeping a package of Twizzlers® candy handy to quiet children when she had to take a call while she was in the car or on an outing with them. But there are a lot more priorities to consider, too.
"The difference between being a working mother and a business owner is that you're not just worrying about your own family needs and income," Pamela says. "You're responsible for payroll, and the related needs and well-being of your employees and their children. That's a big responsibility."
Giving the business the attention it needs means paying attention to her employees' needs for everything from healthcare to flexible hours and time for fun. One of the company's policies is that every employee is required to take 5 weeks of vacation a year.
Dealing with the ever changing priorities of a family and those of being a business owner would, one would expect, be more than enough for any woman or man to tackle, especially when none of the children had gotten out of grade school. But that wasn't the case for Pamela. In 2009 she became a cofounder of The Small Business Web, a trade association for companies that build cloud-based software for small businesses. She also writes a blog on her company website.
Advice for Other Startups
Starting a business that filled a need and utilized her knowledge of technology, then marketing that startup effectively have all been important to the success of Batchbook. But when asked what advice she'd give to others who want to start their own companies, Pamela says, "Know what you're biting off. If you're going to be hiring employees, you'll be taking on a big responsibility.
"I had thought it would be easier to do my own thing and make my own hours and make my own rules," she adds. "You find out that, yes, you can set your own rules, but there are a lot of ramifications. It's a lot of responsibility and pressure, and you have to love it. If you don't, don't do it."