Sramana: Once you had created your first product out of the charting functions, how did your first customers find you?
Pallav Nadhani: They were folks who had read my article on Wrox. The first payments I received were from people who read about my work there. Once the product was good, I put it up on a website and then wrote some articles to indirectly promote that product. I wrote articles about why people should not be using outdated charts in Excel when there was a better technology. I got a lot of traffic from people who had read that article and came to our website. All of our initial customers came from free marketing like that.
Sramana: What you really did is called guerrilla PR by writing guest articles at somebody else’s site that had the right audience.
Pallav Nadhani: That was the only choice I had because I had no money to spend on marketing, and I had no clue how to do marketing.
Sramana: What happened after you received two checks by mail? You mentioned that cashing those checks was more expensive than the actual value of the check, so you had to move to a payment gateway. How did you build a customer base after that?
Pallav Nadhani: I had been collecting a list of customers who wanted our product but were not able to mail checks. Once I had the payment gateway online, all I had to do was contact them and let them know about the new payment option. This was a 2001, which was not a good time for building anything on the Internet. Fortunately for me, people at that time were interested in building the next generation of web applications that were commercially viable.
I actually helped some of my clients integrate my application into the product without charging them an integration fee. All I charged them was the licensing fee. In return I got their recommendations, which in turn generated a few more clients for me. Once these clients put our application link on their websites, a lot of people saw it. That started building our business. Throughout this time I continued to write guest articles. I also went to various web forums and talked about the features. Any time I saw someone in a forum asking how to build a column chart, I would go in and recommend my product as well as posting some integration code samples.
Sramana: You licensed your product to a couple of companies and provided free integration in return for their public acknowledgment of your application. What kind of reach did they have?
Pallav Nadhani: They had a very widespread audience. Some companies used it for their intranet reports. If they had a sales tracking application, the charts were restricted to internal audiences. However, other companies had their applications and charts facing the public. They also had a varied audience.
The biggest benefit we received was from a company that was building survey-based products. They sold their product to anyone that needed internal or external surveys. They had a good reach into small- and mid-sized enterprises. Their testimonial, combined with acknowledgement of our charting application, helped us get credibility with their customers.