Brandon Medenwald – Co-founder of Simply Made Apps

[quote style=”boxed”]Iterate and ship. In the case of Simply Made Apps, we are in the software business. It’s easy to get stuck in the “feature list” game, where the company who can check the most boxes wins.[/quote]

Brandon Medenwald is the co-founder of Simply Made Apps, a 3 person startup based in Fargo, North Dakota that develops software for the web, iPhone and Android platforms. Ruby on Rails guru, backend API designer, graphics ninja and more, when Brandon’s not golfing, he’s dreaming up new features that are powerful yet easy to use. Our software is targeted currently to small businesses and organizations.

What are you working on right now?

We’re excited to be expanding our product, Simple In/Out, with native apps for Windows 8 and Mac OS X. This will make it even easier for businesses and non-profits to maximize their usage of their digital in/out board. Simple In/Out for Windows and OS X will join our iOS and Android apps already in their respective stores.

Where did the idea for Simple In/Out come from?

Our startup story is a classic example of American endeavor. I personally had a problem with our in/out software at my day job and joked that “I could write a better app in a weekend”. After chewing on this boast for a while, I pitched the idea to a couple of my friends over beers and Simple Made Apps was born. Now, we have paying customers and profitability. We all still have day jobs that pay the bills, but our little business together is where our passion for making simple products really gets to shine.

How do you make money?

Build products worth paying for. Simple In/Out is a subscription service with plans based on the number of users in an organization. Our plans range from free to $40 per month and up.

What does your typical day look like?

A typical day involves going to my day job (I’m a team lead at another software company), then returning home to work on new features for Simple In/Out. Occassionally, this involves the three of us co-founders gathering at a local bar for beers and code sprints. Sometimes I’m at a coffee shop enjoying a dark roast. Sometimes I’m home with a glass of wine as my muse.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Bringing ideas to life for us is simply a matter of thinking about one feature at a time and knocking that feature out of the park. We inheriently dislike software that has fifty complicated features that users can’t possibly understand. Instead, we gravitate towards easy to use software with a few features that work brilliantly.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

App Stores have lowered the barrier of entry like never before. This has allowed software developers like us to easily reach customers. What’s truly exciting about this is the rise of small, inexpensive apps. All of my favorite apps on my iPhone cost less than $10, serve one function and do that function incredibly well. That’s exciting, because it’s exactly the kind of software I strive to build at Simply Made Apps.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I was a telemarketer for two months. Attempting to sell things to folks that had no intention of buying what you were pushing is about as comfortable as chewing glass. In the long term, the lesson was to have a product so good that it would sell itself. Having to convince people to buy your service should be as easy as describing the benefits, and not a moneyback-guarantee con-job.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

In all honestly, I wouldn’t do much differently at all. I believe we’re all who we are because of our past experiences. I’ve had failures, startup ideas that didn’t work, partnerships that fizzled out. When it’s all said and done, those experiences have made me the person I am today. I wouldn’t trade those experiences (even the failures) for anything.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Iterate and ship. In the case of Simply Made Apps, we are in the software business. It’s easy to get stuck in the “feature list” game, where the company who can check the most boxes wins. What we pride ourselves on is steady, incremental updates. This allows our customers to shift our focus through constant feedback. Many of our favorite features in Simple In/Out came from our user’s suggestions.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

A previous startup idea I has was for a golf website that would list golf tournaments. It was a great idea that filled a need that no one else was filling well. I marched straight into the fire with a great site and was assured of my own success. I was so confident in my idea that I placed my site on the most expensive host around and waited for the cash to come in. Nine months and tons of money later, the site was shut down.

The moral of the story is to start small, get users and then iterate on your idea. If I would have done that, I’d have discovered there was no lucrative market before plowing gobs of money into the project. It’s a lesson I haven’t soon forgotten.

To overcome this, a saved up some money and tried again. Fail fast and keep trying.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I believe there’s more business to be had in personal finance, specifically budgeting software. Good products like Mint, Quicken and now Simple exist and solve some of these problems, but I’ve never quite found the one I like better than doing this myself on paper. I think this is one area where technology can still bring solutions no one has thought of yet.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I’d love to see more open data standards for all branches of the federal government. The idea that software developers could access all the data that government produces is exciting to me as a way to provide more context. The gridlock in government would be something I’d love to change with some software that cuts through the politics and makes the facts readily available and indisputable.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I enjoy being an uncle way more than I let on. I don’t have any children of my own, but I have two nephews ages 5 and 3. I typically only see them once a week, but I look forward to those few hours all weekend long. I’ve built more forts from blankets than I care to remember, and loved every minute of it.

What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?

I’m a big fan of Dropbox for storing all our business-related stuff. The shared folders in Dropbox are pure genius.

I enjoy using Evernote. I’d left Evernote for dead some time back, but their latest version for the iPad is really quite good. All my inspiration and development notes are there, waiting for me whenever I need them.

I couldn’t do my job as well as I do without Stacked Overflow. Most days, if I run into a problem coding that I can’t immediately solve, someone on Stacked Overflow has solved the problem for me. It’s my greatest coding reference.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk. Have passion for what you’re doing and let that shine through.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why? (please don’t include yourself)

Tim Ferriss (@tferriss): I’ve always liked Tim’s take on business. Plus, his effort to maximize efficiency is a personal hobby I’d like to spend more time doing myself.

Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee): Love Gary’s writing and his passion. Watching his talks on the internet is the best way to get inspired.

Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog): A great marketing and business mind.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I laugh out loud on a daily basis. It’s really the only way to stay sane. In my case, I just laughed out loud several times during a conversation with my girlfriend.

Who is your hero, and why?

37signals. These guys are my heroes for many reasons. Their products are clear, concise and useful. Their business philosophy is to build great products and charge for those services, no gimmicks. Their development philosophy is to embrace constraints and focus on what’s important. Their book, ReWork, is a great read for anyone who wants to know more.

What would you say to other folks who are considering bootstrapping a company in their spare time?

I can’t stress enough to choose a product or service that you love. You have to be passionate about what you’re doing, otherwise you won’t find the time to do it. When life slams you with too much to do, it’s that passion that will motivate you to get things done.

How do you unwind after all that work?

For me, I find relaxation on the golf course. There’s nothing better than an early morning round of golf, a Starbucks in one hand and my iPhone left at home. Other than a movie theatre, it’s about the last place I can truly unplug.


Brandon Medenwald on Twitter: @bmedenwald
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Simply Made Apps Website:
Simply Made Apps on Twitter: @simplymadeapps
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Simple In/Out’s Website: