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Comments On New Product

I'm releasing a webapp for smb's to calculate material requirements and cost rollups. Any comments, suggestions, darts that anyone would like to throw would be appreciated.

The website is www.kitsandbills.com.

Phil Curnan Send private email
Friday, July 11, 2014
Phil Curnan Send private email
Friday, July 11, 2014
You need to be clearer about who your target audience is.  So I guess this is for small tradespeople who today might be manually putting a bill-of-materials together?

Seems like you'd need to have invoicing capability also... So the user can not only put the bill-of-materials together, but they can also send an invoice at the same time.  Then I think it would be interesting...

Joanna Lees Castro Send private email
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Joanna, thank you for your comments.

The target audience you picked is interesting. I guess it's an unforeseen consequence of the example I gave. I wanted to portray a very simple hierarchical data set so I did a table and chairs. I didn't want the data of the example to get in the way of showing how to use the application. I went too far in that the example data trivialized the application.

The target audience I am going for is production managers and cost accountants in manufacturing businesses with several hundred employees. A problem I've seen for production managers is that they get many workorders to produce items for a day. Each of those work orders has a pick list of material needed to make the product. I'm attempting to provide the ability to combine those picklists so as to make the picking more efficient.

The target for cost accountants is that many use excel for multi-level bill of material cost analysis. I wanted to provide an easier method for maintenance.

Part of the issue also is that this is a first iteration product. The code to upload spreadsheets with data is functioning but I held it back from my first release. I was concerned of needing to do possibly several thousand writes to a database on the initial hardware setup. Because of this I'm constrained in how I can portray the application.

Thanks again for your comments you've given me a lot to think about.
Phil Curnan Send private email
Saturday, July 12, 2014
Hi Phil,

Just some observations in no particular order:

-- 'Features' menu
How about displaying "Benefits" instead? Your customers will be interested in the 'benefits' KitsAndBills brings them.

-- 'Features' List
Is 'wrestling with pain in the neck spreadsheets' and not needing 'to be a programmer' really the *biggest* pain KitsAndBills is solving? Whatever it is, zero in on that first. If I was a production manager for a 300 personnel strong company "You don't need to be a programmer" wouldn't compel me to read further.

-- "A straightforward online application for calculating material requirements and cost rollups"
Okay, we're starting to move in the right direction with this - at least visitors can tell what it's for.
Might I suggest:
1. Make it more niche. Don't just go for any old 'manufacturing businesses', target a specific manufacturing sector you know experiences the *most* pain in material requirements and zone in on their needs.
2. Build your biggest benefit into this statement. What's in it for them? "straightforward online application" is as compelling as "user friendly".

-- Target Market
"target audience ... is production managers and cost accountants in manufacturing businesses with several hundred employees"

As alluded to above, this is v-e-r-y broad. Given each manufacturing sector will believe their business is different (i.e. has special needs), it will be impossible to appease them all. Is there a specific manufacturing sector for which this a more of a PITA than the others?

-- Integration
I'd agree with Joanna on this one. I would have naturally considered that BOM preparation would only be complemented by invoices and perhaps even stock control. If this is beyond your current scope, perhaps functionality that could export the data to the most popular/prevalent general ledgers used by your target market would add extra value.

All the best -
Marcus from London Send private email
Monday, July 14, 2014
Having worked in manufacturing my entire career I know this is a common problem that many companies of all sizes have. However based on your follow description of your intended target audience there are a few other concerns.

Having been a person whose had to evaluate software specifically to do this looking at your site it's an interesting and useful concept.  So the first thing I look for is how do you get the data into your system. Can I integrate it with my existing ERP system, or push the parts to it instead of entering them all manually.

One of the largest concerns with implementing any system like this is data entry. Likely this data already lives in atleast two places, the CAD system and the ERP software, or a simple database if not using ERP system. Though your target size usually has some sort of system put in place even if its home grown to deal with job orders and parts lists. Now you're introducing a third system to manually enter data. If data can be pushed to it the that needs to be stated upfront before a person even considers signing up for anything.

The other thing is you're doing one part of a much larger process. The good news is there's nothing wrong with focusing on one part. But you need to market it and showcasing how it can be integrated into existing workflows, and why you have a better solution to what is done at a basic level in almost any manufacturing oriented ERP system. I personally would integrate it as a third party add-in to some of the small to medium level systems. Some of the software made by Exact and Infor would be of the perfect size to pitch this as an add-in to get the perfect kitting done. Because software of this nature is so broadly targeted companies do very well by selling add-ins to work in a specific way for specific industries, or companies of specific sizes.

I also would not worry about integrating Invoicing because you'll now be mixing accounting in BOM/Material management that could be used for simplistic job cost estimating. If you start including more accounting features then what you are developing is a basic ERP system used online. Then you need to aim to smaller companies, especially those who are looking to put systems in place or move from basic databases and spreadsheets.
TrippinOnIT Send private email
Monday, July 14, 2014
Marcus, thank you for taking the time to comment,

-- 'Features' menu ...
I see your point. I've always preferred to talk about the features and have the customer tease out the benefits for themselves. The benefits will be different for each customer and I feel I'm being a little presumptuous to tell them straight out what they are.  That said, the features should point them to see the benefits I want them to see. Something I'm not doing now.

-- 'Features List ...
Yep, you're right.

-- Target Market ...
Agreed. It's meant for discreet manufactures who would typically have small batches to meet build to order needs.
Any comments on if that is narrow enough?

-- Integration ...
I've addressed integration in my comments to TrippinOnIT below in order to limit redundancy.

Thanks again Marcus
Phil Curnan Send private email
Monday, July 14, 2014
Trippin, thanks for the comments. We seem to share some common experiences.

Data input / integration is the biggest cost for a customer to use this product on a continueing basis. Not having it for a preview was more a case of needing to get the idea out there for validation as well as the added infrastructure I talked about before.

At this point which do you think would make a better data integration method: csv file transfers or a JSON API? The API is the more popular developer choice but it takes more IT support than CSV files do. In my experience it's usually easier to get IT to run a scheduled task for a data extraction than it is to get them to write application code.

As far as the larger process, you're correct it's part of something bigger. Its the first step towards a scheduling system for build to order discrete manufacturers.

I appreciate the suggestion of integrating with other vendors ERP systems but it's not really the direction I prefer. The sales cycle for that is something I can't support at this time. I prefer to work with those who have home-grown systems that need to bolt on additional features. My thoughts here are that the SaaS model will appeal to those businesses who are, typically, risk adverse to large capital expenditures but are willing to have to have their IT people give a day or two to integrating something that handles 80% of their perceived problems.

Phil Curnan Send private email
Monday, July 14, 2014
Targeting shops with homegrown solutions I would use a csv. I would also provide an Excel template file for a BOMs. They download it, use it for input, and export as a csv and upload. Uploading the actual spreadsheet is good too.  And instructions on how to set up the csv and maybe instruction on exporting from something like Quickbooks as well.

 And if possible a FileMaker DB and an Access DB. At least a table structure they can add to their existing system and link the appropriate fields and get an export as a csv list.

 I think there is a sizable market of small to mid sized manufacturing shops that need to get a better handle  on ways to control there data but it is a tough sell.

A few years ago I along with a partner outlined how we could do a simple Saas based simple ERP systems specifically for shops who don't want the IT expense or are ready for the investment of a full integrated system. We had the project mostly fleshed out from a software point of view and functionality on paper. But we first were deciding how could we sell this.  One of the biggest issues we concluded before we ever coded anything was our target are already using homegrown systems so we have to convince them to move to something they have to pay for. We decided the sales staff needed to do that as a start up would be to much.

And our Saas approach as this was over 10 years ago was to sell the software preinstalled on a locked down bsd server, that ran a web app. They received a box that they configure the network settings and open a browser and go. We would remote into the servers or send out update CDs.

Hmm I wonder if it's time to revisit since more businesses are now used to turning to the internet for solutions.
TrippinOnIT Send private email
Monday, July 14, 2014
I've updated the product homepage based on the comments I received here.


Thank you all for taking the time and volunteering your expertise.

Phil Curnan Send private email
Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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