Off and Running
2015 is off to a great start for Volano and there was no better way to kick off the year than to be recognized by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce for small business of the month. We are actively looking for software developers, client support people and marketing help. Despite the pace, our dedication to playing darts, enjoying the occasional drink and making each other laugh have not been deterred.
Takeaways from our Q4 Meeting
Volano’s custom software business and mobile app development are off to a fast start in 2015 and we thought it would be good to jot down some accomplishments from the end of 2014. From a sales standpoint, November was our biggest month, December was our 2nd and October was our 3rd. The last quarter of 2014 was delightfully frenetic and set a new standard for us in the quality of work we did within deadline.
November saw Volano relocate to the Mastercraft building where our developers can continue to collaborate in a more open space. We made headway with Action Card, our mobile field compliance app, adding clients across the country and in Canada from the franchise and wireless retail industries and got some nice press in the Midlands Business Journal and Omaha World Herald for the work and our collaboration with Omaha Code School. The Volano Christmas party in downtown Omaha’s Old Market district was a blast and featured Kevin Harvey’s infamous track suit, a mash-up of RUN D.M.C. and Pauly Walnuts from The Sopranos.
Action Card 2.4 in Testing
Volano Solutions is excited to release Action Card 2.4, the latest version of our mobile site review app. Action Card 2.4 will feature some high demand updates including a customizable reporting tool called “Data Sheet” and the ability to create a third administrative tier. The data sheet will give our clients the ability to build and save their own report queries as well as the ability to export their Action Card review data into excel. The third administrative tier will be helpful for our clients who have Regional and District Managers in charge of location standards compliance. When Action Card 2.4 goes live, they will be able to further segregate location assignment so that Regional Managers can view their Districts’ field activities and District Managers will see their assigned locations. This will simplify home screens and allow users to focus on the locations to which they are responsible.
Analyzing Franchise Opportunities
Volano Solution’s most recent Saas application, Action Card, has a growing client base in the franchise market. Thought we provide the best consultation around software as a competitive advantage, our work with franchise companies and our experience in that industry naturally puts us into that thought-sphere.
I worked with a lot of people who were interested in buying and owning a franchise during my days at 1-800-Radiator. In a way I lived vicariously through these people who were at that point in their life where they were ready emotionally and financially to own a business and be their own boss. They were strikingly dissimilar save one common denominator; a readiness to not report to anyone any more. Franchising is definitely a step in that direction, though there are still a lot of guidelines and standards to follow and autonomy is not a wholesale given. Many of our Action Card clients are growing franchise companies. They look for the right owners (or should) as carefully as potential franchisees look for the right brand. Here are some nuggets of wisdom for people flirting with the idea of buying a franchise.
Being Your Own Boss
One of the main reasons that people buy franchises to run is to have autonomy and control. If you feel as though you are ready to parlay your life experiences into business management without having a day to day boss, you may be interested in franchising. However, in franchising you are still required to follow the brand standards and model of the corporate ownership. It’s a different kind of boss. But you sign up for a franchise to buy into a proven model. If you think the model is flawed and in need of change, don’t invest in the franchise.
Be Prepared to Drop Some Coin
Depending on the franchise that you buy, expect to pay between $20K to 2 million. Financing franchises can be tough, even as the economy continues to gain steam. Buyers should read and understand the franchise disclosure document. Be familiar not only with your royalty obligations but the marketing fee you are usually paying in addition. Write a business plan, revenue goals and understand what your expenses are going to be and where you need to be to break even and turn a profit. Understand that nothing goes as planned and talk to as may franchisees as you can before signing an FDD. In fact, good franchisors will require this. If you skip those calls and visits and the franchisor does not care and does not ensure they are being made, you’re setting each other up for failure. Understand what your staffing needs will be, how much they will cost you in total factoring in benefits and list out your fixed costs and operating expenses down to the finest detail.
It’s important to understand that smaller franchise concepts have less history from which you can draw on to predict the likelihood of success. You may have more wiggle room to negotiate stipulations with smaller franchises than with larger, well-established brands, but the unknowns are greater. According the The Wall Street Journal; “systems with fewer than 50 units may not have all the bugs worked out of the business model. That could require more business and operational skill from franchisees than a larger system.”
Be prepared to work long hours. Buying into a franchise is no guarantee of customers and revenue. Though you are following a template, you have control of driving culture, staffing, local customer marketing and establishing best practices takes a lot of time, training and commitment. Being available will paramount and learning every aspect and role in the business is critical. If you are leaving the corporate world to run your own business, add 15-20 hours to your work week. Minimum. Most of the owners I worked with evolved significantly from year 1 to year 3. They were a great group of people and many of them are still growing their local markets and adding additional locations. They will say it can be fun but none of them will tell you buying and running a franchise was easier than they thought it would be.
This month Volano Solutions was recognized by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce for Small Business of the Month. Check out the write-up!
The Chamber recognized Volano as an Omaha based custom software developer dedicated to helping small and medium-sized businesses by creating transparency, accountability and clarity in their workflow processes. The award validates our approach to client work. It also exemplifies how we hire, on attitude and aptitude. We’re excited to get this kind of validation and credit our development team for their work and the Omaha technology community for their support.
The Omaha World Herald did a great piece on the relevance of local code schools Interface and Omaha Code School using Volano as an example.
“It is very vulgar to talk about one’s business. Only people like stockbrokers do that, and then merely at dinner parties.” – Oscar Wilde
As Volano closes out 2014 and looks ahead to the new year, we wanted to look back on some of the year’s highlights. 2014 was a big year for us on a lot of levels. We are eternally grateful for our clients, partners, friends and family and the countless contacts to whom we have relied. We’ve worked hard to develop and refine our brand promise of delivering transparency, efficiency, accountability and accuracy to our clients’ workflow management through custom software. Software as a competitive advantage was never more prevalent than in 2014. In a year crowded with accomplishments, here are a few milestones of which we are particularly proud.
New Product Launch
In February we launched Action Card, our software as a service mobile field management too. Volano’s sales team introduced the app at the International Franchise Association convention after several months of beta-testing and at the time of this writing, have nearly 1,600 active locations using it across the country and in Canada and a 1,000 in trial. Fueled by a grassroots sales and marketing campaign, we’ve received some great press and Q1 is looking very promising.
We launched a new website for Volano with branding and messaging that is more focused on what we do best: workflow. We also got behind a few of Omaha’s indispensable organizations by supporting Big Omaha, StraightShot, Omaha Young Professionals , Cystic Fibrosis, Business Ethics Alliance, Interface , Omaha Code School and many others. Recently the Omaha World Herald wrote an article featuring two software developers we hired from both code schools. Above all else we hire on attitude and aptitude and the model is paying off. Volano has always subscribed to the idea that businesses should be active participants in their community and supporting local technologists and aspiring entrepreneurs has had a positive impact on our brand and business. In January we are being honored by a prominent organization for small business of the month. More on that to come.
Volano hired four developers in 2014 and are going into 2015 with openings for a VP of Software Development, Sales Support and Customer Support. In November we made a great move to the Mastercraft Building and are working in 2015 on details for our next, more permanent, location. We also showed that we are able to diversify our project-based revenue stream through product sales and leverage Omaha’s extremely accessible and generous technology community to learn how to scale and grow product sales.
Where the Tire Meets the Track
Volano’s core beliefs and capabilities were tested on a particularly challenging software engagement this year. Those in software will understand. The project had a 5 month timeline involving thousands of hours, six of our own developers (more people leads to more complexity and requires more communication and coordination), integration with 3rd party custom applications and integration with legacy systems. We knew we could do the project but that it would be tough.
Our team successfully completed the project on time, within budget and without having to go back to the client to change order things. The client was very happy with the finished product. Success was attributed to the skill of our team, the direction provided on the engagement, the initial and ongoing communication with the client and the simple fact that we hire people that love challenges and step up when they’re taken a little outside their comfort level. We were extremely proud.
We’re looking forward to 2015 and building on the success of last year. Regardless of how we evolve, the darts will continue to fly, the kegerator will flow and the battle for control of Sonos will be fought in the trenches. Happy New Year everyone.