I’m a huge fan of the 37Signals mantra of “scratch your own itch.” Inspired by their book for “Getting Real” which I’ve read atleast twice, and “Rework” which I’m reading now, I decided to write a small web application to scratch an itch around customer development emails.
Do note though, 37Signals mantra here probably roots back to a saying my Dad, also an entrepreneur, has always said to me: “Necessity is the mother of invention”
Either way, here’s the problem I solved with Tout: as I’ve been ramping up customer development for Braintrust, I realized that typing, copying, pasting, re-typing all these emails was becoming a huge pain. Even worse, it became even harder to keep track of all these emails.
“There had to be a better way!” — and while there are tons of CRMs out there, the simple “get in, get out” type of solution didn’t exist. So, I decided to create one.
Introducing Tout – the simplest way to templatize and track (like you do for websites) your customer development emails. It helps me create e-mail templates, send emails quickly, and track when someone’s viewed my email, and whether they clicked on my link. It also lets me track whether my overall email was a “success” or not.
It took me about 1 day to get the app working to fit my own need. After realizing this could probably help other people, it took me another 2 days to get it production ready. WOW!
I think we’re at amazing times right now. With all the different “common services” startups cropping up, building, releasing and opening up shop for a web application has never been easier.
Here are the common services/technologies I leveraged to take Tout to market in 3 days:
All of my development is on Rails, and Heroku puts Rails on steroids. Thanks to their amazing cloud infrastructure, I had to do ZERO sysadmin stuff and was able to get my app online in literally 3 commands. More importantly, setting up DNS, E-Mailing, and SSl was all done through the web UI as well. I highly recommend them for starter applications, especially ones that are still testing out the market.
The only downside for Heroku is that they have no way to support real-time applications (i.e. run an XMPP or NodeJS server to push out real-time updates) — can you guys start working on this?
Even though the biggest “feature” of my web-app is sending emails, I had to write next to no code for actually sending out emails or even configuring e-mail servers. All of this got taken care of by Sendgrid.
They were also very diligent about validating my site and making sure I was compliant with CAN-SPAM laws and ensuring this doesn’t turn into another spamming machine (Thanks Jose!)
Tout has a premium feature, and charges credit cards, handles recurring billing and even sends out invoices. However, I didn’t have to write more than about 50 lines of billing code. Chargify takes care of all of this — all I have to do is build out hooks to keep the subscription level of the customer up to date.
The reality is, it has become so ridiculous easy to take web applications to market now that I don’t have to spend time working on plumbing — instead, all of my time and energy goes toward the creative aspect of the product — which is the way it should be.
And, if you’re wondering what Tout looks like, here’s a 2 minute screencast showing what it does: