Distressedpro.com Bank Data and Contacts SAAS

distressedpro.com online software for bank data and contactsDistressedpro.com was my first foray into the software space. Prior to this project I worked almost exclusively on websites that were more, just, well… websites. Distressedpro.com was born from my own needs that arose from my work as a real estate auctioneer.

In 2006 I was in the real estate business and just starting to work with banks selling bank owned real estate or foreclosures as an auctioneer. In 2008 I got the idea to automate a lot of the very tedious research that was required to find the right banks and the right contacts with the right assets to sell.

At first I tested the business concept of selling this data with a  very simple PDF for sale and a single email. I broadcasted an email to a list of people in the business that I was affiliated with professionally and I listed the PDF bank list for sale for almost $200. To my amazement several people bought.

Over the coming months (2009) I developed the idea further and determined that I’d move towards a legitimate software product. The first version was not good… it required a quarterly manual upload of the bank data and had the simplest of Linkedin plugins as a source of contacts. Still, I sold it for $97 per month and I started having sales my first month.

Today BankProspector from distressedpro.com continues to thrive and grow every month. It’s currently in Version 2.1. BankProspector pulls quarterly bank data updates from the federal repository known as the FFIEC every night guaranteeing the freshest bank data available. The application also plugins into 2 powerful contact databases including Jigsaw.com and Linkedin. Members pay monthly or annual subscription rates. The site’s success is built entirely upon organic search and social sharing primarily on Linkedin.

After the most recent rebuild, and adding a money back guarantee, the site became reliably profitable and sustained by an automated sales and follow up process.

Technologies used for this project are:

No Technical Co-Founder Required

Technical Cofounder
Do you really need a technical co-founder?

Lately I’ve been attending more entrepreneurial or startup events in the Boston and Cambridge scene. It’s striking to me how many people are walking around with what they believe to be a good idea and they aren’t acting on it because they want a “technical cofounder”. It seems like it’s a topic that gets an inordinate amount of attention… every time.

I guess I don’t blame people for getting so stuck on it. They’re usually on the ‘business side’ of things and they desperately want to get something going, they think they have a great idea, AND they have no technical skills… and that’s fine. I also hear people say things like “well y-combinator won’t even take you if you’re solo”…. yawwwwnnnn… I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I got rich when I IPO’d and that the way I’m doing it is right, but I’ll tell you this you’re probably not getting into Y-combinator, and SO WHAT. Is that really your goal? Do you want a good story a bunch of VC and no control. What I want to know is –  Why do you want to build your idea, this piece of software (or ‘app’ or ‘site’)? What is the driving force? What is the reason that you feel you need to do this? Is it to ‘get funded’? Is it to IPO? Ugh, then you probably want to stop reading right here.

I built my first software product because I wanted a reliable, recurring income that paid at least my health insurance and ideally my base expenses (mortgage, cars, etc). Not a very sexy goal but it seemed totally attainable to me and I wanted it desperately. I wanted a business that was scalable, that had good margins, little overhead, and that was a product and NOT a service.

In real estate the money can be huge and then… nada. It’s a constant cycle of boom and bust and I was at the front end of a spectacular real estate implosion where no matter how hard I worked or how many deals I put up on the board nothing, nothing, nothing was closing… and I had a 3 month old and a 2 year old and a wife at home. Talk about uncomfortable. We’d have years when I made a lot more than most followed by a year where my gross was as much as I had paid in taxes the year prior. Holy shit that sucks. So I wanted needed a new business model. I landed on software, a subscription web application specifically.

I probably started thinking about what I wanted to offer (and not just that I wanted to make something) shortly before my son was born in the spring of 2009. I had kicked around with some WordPress websites or whatever for a couple of years before that but I wasn’t serious. In July of 2009 I got really really serious. Like do or die serious. I just had some major deal implosion which left me with nothing on the horizon in terms of income (did I mention the baby, the toddler, the wife and the mortgage?). I was on my way to a 3-day conference (not at all tech related) and I had just read the 4 Hour Work Week over vacation (I know it’s kind of cliche I guess but it’s the truth). I decided that I’d load the iPod with business podcasts for the long drive and just let the subconscious run and before I came home I would settle on an idea. That was the end of July 2009. I released my first software product (soft launch) in October of the same year. I made money  starting the first month and every month since. By the way I had almost zero technical skills when I launched and I had no technical cofounder.

I’m not going to tell you the first round was pretty, it was decidedly not pretty, but I still had people signing up at $97 per month and I was getting good feedback (by the way I’ve spent probably a grand total of maybe $500 on advertising in what’s now almost 2 years and income continues to grow).

Since releasing my first ‘alpha version’ (the nicest way I can think to refer to it) I released a rebuilt “Version 2.0” that is vastly superior to the first . In addition to these I have a new product in a totally unrelated space that I’m releasing very soon.

I’ve had friends ask me over the last year or so about how they’d go about developing their own products and now, as I’m moving around the startup scene, I’m seeing that there’s a real need for some basic info or at least a path. For now on this blog I’m going to focus on laying out everything I’ve learned as I’ve built these products and grown my business and that I’ve learned from the bumps and bruises of ‘solopreneurship’. My plan is to layout a working model of best practices for a non-technical person to get started with producing his or her own software, app, website, or pick-you-nomenclature. I’m going to focus on how to make a real product, not an affiliate website or an eBook or an Adsense site or whatever else, I know little to nothing about those topics except insofar as they relate to promoting a web app. I want to help you with getting your idea out the door and then maybe I’l talk about getting it found. If you want to learn about whether or not you should even pursue your idea, well that’s a whole topic and one that some other people know a whole lot more about than I.

In the Beginning

Up until this very post I’ve spent exactly 100% of my online career writing for the money. Wha? Yes I said it writing for the money. I dare say that every single thing I’ve written online, to this point, has been for the purpose of driving traffic, converting traffic, following up, or otherwise selling in some way shape or form. That is not what this is. What this is, is a place where I’m going to document some of what I’m doing and why online and in life and today in particular I’m just going to dump.

Today I own one moderately successful online web app. I’m not a developer per se though, no actually not a developer at all. I’ve learned a little.

I’m not a writer exactly though I produce a lot of content, and I’m not a designer but I did design the aforementioned moderately successful web app and a number of other sites.

Today this post is a tree falling in the forest with absolutely nobody around to hear it, and that is just fine. Today I’m saying fuckit. I’m not optimizing for keyword density and I couldn’t give a shit about title tags, META descriptions, or backlinks. Today I begin actively, systematically moving towards a goal via a real plan and for reasons other than just fucking cash and my goal here is to get some of this out in black and white to make it real where I can see it.

I cannot remember a decision I’ve made professionally that wasn’t designed to put more money in my pocket, exclusively, that is to say without too much regard for anything else, sure lifestyle I suppose, control over my time, but in terms of enjoying what I do, I think I can honestly say that it never really came up in the equation. Today I am seriously fucking done with that approach.

When all the things you’re doing you do for money you’re fake. You have to say a lot of things that have nothing to do with who you are, or maybe that’s just being a grown up but I don’t think so, it feels fake and reserved and disingenuous and after a while you (I) gotta wonder WTF am I doing? More importably why?

So yeah, I have this web app. It’s pretty cool, I provide tons of data to a crowd that desperately needs it, the problem is I don’t like the crowd, it’s probably more technical than most of them are equipped to handle and it’s in a really really spammy, get-rich-quick type of space unfortunately so rising above that noise with a legit product is tough, and that’s what I offer, a legit product. The other problem is my crowd is a naaaaarow. OK that’s fine it’s profitable, but I hate writing content for it and the material is too technical to outsource to just anyone, so there you are.

I have a day job, of sorts. Ok it’s not a job it’s more like a gig. This gig I also got into, I think, strictly for the money and god I am bored with it. It is a distraction… but from what? There’s the rub. It’s a distraction I suppose from what I should be doing …. which is… something I like? – right? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do as humans is pursue a thing we like, that we’re passionate about?

So what am I passionate about? Well, I get a major woody for technology. I mean I love tinkering with code and I have since I was 11 and had my first Commodore 128 and an IBM PC Jr., writing idiotic programs in Basic that would whistle and turn the screen colors or a choose your own adventure that lasted all of 8 minutes, but as I mentioned I am not a programmer, no, and nor do I want to be at this point at least not in any sort of a full time capacity, in fact I’ve been in sales in one way or another for the last 14 years and I don’t know if there’s anything more opposite from straight coding than sales.

Which has me thinking… is tinkering with code just my escape from sales? Drop the smile and the hand shakes, stop answering questions with questions and uncovering objections and hide out behind a computer screen for a little while? I don’t know. Doesn’t matter… I don’t think. But back to passion.

So I love all kinds of technology, think it’s super cool, I’m not a code genius and probably won’t be but man oh man do I have ideas. I have an idea a minute and an awful lot of them have to do with services I can provide, mostly in the form of a web app or mobile app or some other technology that would be so dead simple and that would make you so efficient at what you do that is such a  no-brainer that you’ll be begging me to let you pay $97 a month for it, at least. Yes it’s true I have no idea what you do but trust me I have an idea for your business and you are going to love it. It will change your world.

I didn’t say, by the way, that I don’t like need or want money or more appropriately the things that money will do for you but I’ll be damned if I’m going to make my life decisions exclusively with the money in mind.

So I guess that’s what I’m really passionate about is big ideas that make a serious difference in a persons business or work life. Or little ideas that can bring efficiencies to the parts of your business that you don’t love or that are tedious or repetitive or that you’d just rather streamline… or eliminate.

I hate waste, inefficiency, bureaucracy, and any system that favors seniority over merit.

So. There it is. I kinda started before but I’m seriously starting right now. I’m reading and implementing Running Lean right now to rapidly shake out the myriad of ideas that are bouncing around in my head (and in my files). I’ll blog here about my experience as I go through it… periodically I suppose.

I do have one confession to make, I’ve read a bunch of books and then completely ignored everything they had to say and just did what I wanted. RIght now I am stopping this practice.

As I type this I have a BETA version of a mobile marketing product that I’m about to roll out on a limited basis. But it appears that what I really need to do now is back up and implement some of what I’ve read and that means customer interviews as far as I can tell.

I’d apologize for the rambling if I thought you were reading but I know you’re not and besides I’m not writing this for you I’m writing this for me. But then again… if you are reading this God blessed you with patience or a strange sense of humor. Until next time.

WordPress Doesn’t Look Professional Enough

This is what my friend, whom I mentioned in an earlier post, recently told me as I’m coaching him through getting his site setup web strategy together. Here’s what he said about my suggestion that he use WordPress.

For the cost I agree it’s a good method for creating a website –
I think because of what I’m selling it doesn’t work though. They
all have a blog look to them. I’d shell out some money for a
custom website if I had to. I’ll send you some links for what
I’m talking about…

So I wrote that then went looking, and it seems most people
doing video work at my level are using wordpress. Hmmm.

I’d assign the money for a site like this one: { obscured}
This happens to be a guy in RI who does voice
over work, I know he paid something like $500-$1,000 for this site. I think if your in the business of presentation, like video work, your site should pop out. WordPress looks professional, but doesn’t seem to have stand out from the crowd capabilities.

My response:

That site is lame. The only way that it is getting any traffic at all is through traditional advertising or PPC. There is absolutely zero searchability, seriously it has NO search value. There is no text, no regular updates. His is a pretty billboard in the Appalachians it is practically worthless. Take his site to alexa.com or compete.com, he doesn’t even exist.

Just in case you don’t believe me or beg to differ I took it to the street. I’m a huge fan (though not presently a user) of Hubspot, their philosophy and technology. Their Website Grader is very cool. It analyzes sites for web marketing effectiveness, grades go from 0-100. Here’s what WebsiteGrader had to say about the site:

A website grade of 4/100 for [obscured].com means that means that of the millions of websites that have previously been evaluated, our algorithm has calculated that this site scores higher than 4% of them in terms of its marketing effectiveness. The algorithm uses a proprietary blend of over 50 different variables, including search engine data , website structure, approximate traffic, site performance, and others.

So what about a WordPress site used as a CMS? The frontend of distressedpro.com runs on wordpress (BankProspector does not) and with ZERO advertising, using exclusively content marketing and social media we’ve grown to over 100 members since December 20th, 2009 (that’s a month and a half). The site has only been live since late September. I think the number of users (and the caliber, though I’m not going to get into that right now) speaks for itself but what does WebsiteGrader have to say about my WordPress presentation?

The website www.distressedpro.com ranks 283,052 of the 2,050,623 websites that have been ranked so far.

A website grade of 86/100 for www.distressedpro.com means that means that of the millions of websites that have previously been evaluated, our algorithm has calculated that this site scores higher than 86% of them in terms of its marketing effectiveness. The algorithm uses a proprietary blend of over 50 different variables, including search engine data , website structure, approximate traffic, site performance, and others.

A. Traffic Rank : Top 3.438 %

Alexa is an online service that measures traffic for millions of sites on the Internet in a similar way to Nielsen television show ratings.
Your website has an Alexa rank of 1,069,222 which is in the top 3.438 % of all websites.

Can you make WordPress look professional? I don’t know it but its good enough for The NY Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, Fox, Yahoo, Harvard, CNET, and the list just goes on.

There are a number of Content Management Systems that you could use. But you need to be able to regularly update your site with posts. The only way that guy is getting any traffic is by traditional advertising or PPC. If you build custom you will be rebuilding every 24 months. WP can look like almost anything you want. Other CMS’s that you can checkout that I can help you with (this is an open letter to my friend remember) are Expression Engine, Joomla, Drupal, and Squarespace.

If you are thinking about your website as a placard you are thinking about it incorrectly. You need to think about it as your broadcast station from which you disseminate information. Information through which potential customers find you, visit your site and engage. A CMS will help you to do that and you’d be hard pressed to find one that is as flexible and affordable as WordPress.

Professional’s Online Marketing Starter Kit

Over the last few weeks I’ve had a few professionals (friends) talk to me about how they’re marketing themselves on the web. What I aim to do here is layout a plan for those that have asked. The goal is to help get them from zero to having a professional online presence and online lead flow.

I’m not an internet guru I’m just a guy who has been driving a lot of leads and business online and I’m going to share what I’ve learned.

Step 1: Google yourself.

What do you find? Something? Nothing? Worse..? If you’re doing business today you’re getting Googled. If you have a particularly common name then there will be a lot of results that have nothing to do with you. But think about what you would do if you were  looking into doing business with somebody. First you’d probably google their name. If you got no results you would google their name and company name. Next you might try their job title or job description. Think about it.

If I was looking at working with an “investment broker” named “John Smith” from “Fidelity” in “Boston” I’d search these terms.

You are getting googled, if you’re doing business, period. There aren’t a lot of people with my name so it was fairly easy for me to get control of it online. Regardless of how common your name is you can make some advances.

Step 2: Register your name as a domain name.

Even if you decide that you’re going to use other domain names and sites for business, start here. It is entirely likely that if you have a common name your name is registered. In that case consider some alternatives, use your middle initial, use a designation or a keyword at the end of your name, use a hyphen john-smith.com, johnCsmith.com, john-c-smith.comjohn-smith-cfp.com (Certified Financial Planner)  – go get your name right now.

  1. Register.com is the quickest domain name check that I’m aware of. I’ve never purchased a domain from them but I always check availability there first.  Once you find a domain that works you need to register it. This should cost you between 6 and $15 dollars per year depending on where you go. You should buy a number of years up front (more on why later).
  2. Choose a registrar and a hosting company. I like Bluehost.com for several reasons.
    • Tech support is awesome, they speak English as a first language and so do I, you can IM with them in an instant they are always there, I have never had a problem go unsolved for very long.
    • They use “Simple Scripts” simple scripts frees you from having to know anything to get your website setup (in the next steps that I’m going to walk you through). With Simple Scripts you can literally go live with just a few clicks. Simple Scripts automatically launches a variety of Open Source platforms that are FREE. I will talk more about Open Source for business later.
    • I’ve tried a number of hosts and some SUCK. Take 1and1.com for example. I hate (yes I know that is a strong word) this host. They are cheap but their support is clueless and sites there are slllllloooooowwwww. I also use MediaTemple for distressedpro.com because I needed my own server, and finally I’ve heard good things about HostGator though I’ve never used them, a few of my techies like them (I think because they’re cheap).
  3. Go ahead and register your name as a domain, and if you have one, a company name.
  4. Alternate domain names: If you don’t have a company, you’re independent and a sole proprietor etc, or maybe you want to do this anyway – register a keyword rich name – boston-investment-advisor.com, rhode-island-video.com, somerville-real-estate-attorney.com. But if you go too long it will be hard to use in print in a lot of places. I have a number of domains for different purposes.

Note: rhode-island-video.com is better for your search marketing efforts than rhodeislandvideo.com, even though it doesn’t look as good.

Step 3: Start assembling your assets.

You are probably going to have to wait, at a minimum, a few hours maybe a day for your domain name to be pointing anywhere. While you have this time and you’re all anxious about getting your website setup go ahead and start compiling your assets. By assets I mean all of the content that you’ve been hiding away from the world. Like what? Anything that you have done in your profession that you have not published and that is good enough for the world to see.

Compile things like:

  1. Videos
  2. Photographs
  3. Papers or article you’ve written
  4. Case studies you’ve compiled
  5. Data or analysis you’ve done on a subject
  6. Spreadsheets
  7. Opinions

Whatever, get it all together. It doesn’t have to be ready to go live. Make a folder for ‘Assets’, make some sub-folders that pertain to your categories and dig deep, pull it all together and get it organized.

What if I have no assets?

First off I don’t believe you, look harder, but lets say you don’t – jump to step 4.

Step 4: Start thinking about who your customer or client is. Write it down.

  1. Write down and describe your perfect client or clients. This isn’t new stuff I’m not making it up I’m just reminding you. “But I just want to make my website”  – well you’re going to need to know who you’re talking to. There’s no sense running in half-cocked. Go ahead and describe who your client is and who you want to work with, demographically, physically, whatever. Lay it all out there so you know who this website is talking to.

This is enough for a couple of days work. Probably you won’t want to spend too much time describing your customer or client and you’ll just just start futzing around with your site DON”T do it. You’ll be wasting your time now and in the future while you’re correcting your errors. Once you start thinking about who you’re talking to your approach will change.

This really is enough, so go ahead and get into who you’re going to do business with so you can start your site out right.

My Distressed Loan and REO Data Business

I’ve been hard at work on distressedpro.com for the last couple of months and now I’m preparing for a proper launch during the month of January. I first conceived of the BankProspector this past summer. Its been coming to fruition since.

BankProspector gives real estate professionals instant access to the distressed real estate and loan data for every bank in the country. I hired a development team to write the database application and I hired a designer to put together the interface and make it pretty. The team has been improving it every month and now I think its ready for a proper push.

If you’ve found me here and you think you could use BankProspector in your business leave me a comment below and I’ll send you a special discounted rate ;).