Tag Archives: team

A big blow

customer service in most copy shops is atrocious. This is a major blow to our business model

We have finally concluded, under the weight of years of anecdotal evidence and topped off with a full day in a top Stellenbosch copy shop, that customer service in most copy shops is atrocious. This is a major blow to our business model. I’d long worked on the assumption that 80% of stores would offer good service (or care about offering good service and aim for that actively), and 20% would be bad. I’ve now come to believe the opposite is true. As a result, under our current model we will never consistently create return customers. And without return customers, we could never hit the growth rates we need in order to sustain our current overheads.

We’ve tried hard to train outlets, but managers consistently gatekeep or just don’t work with us. We would only be able to tackle this problem in the long term by owning or franchising the outlets ourselves, which is beyond the scope of the project.

I have decided to cut my team, drastically cut costs, and see whether there are new opportunities for Paperight licensing to explore

As a result, I have decided to cut my team, drastically cut costs, and see whether there are new opportunities for Paperight licensing to explore during the last months of my fellowship. I’d prefer not to close the Paperight service, though it is an option. I’m also talking to potential acquirers, but an acquisition is unlikely.

For now, all discussion of Paperight’s model being flawed, reducing the team, and possible project closure is confidential and not for public consumption. We will certainly share our story in time, but right now we need to be able to craft the public story if we want to create a home for the Paperight service elsewhere and maintain the credibility of the concept of distributed print-on-demand.

Killer metrics

Our main metric is turnover from sales in dollars. We maintained our growing targets till October last year, but slipped dramatically since Nov. At the end of January, for the first time, we slipped below our cumulative ‘Mort’ figure, the minimum target for achieving self-sustainability. That’s a core reason I’m cutting the team and revisiting the core business model. I hope to find a way to keep the project going, though it may not be as an independent company (Paperight Pty Ltd) or as the service we know today.

We also track outlet and publisher registrations, top-ups (credit balances that outlets maintain in order to be able to buy books), and various PR metrics (newsletter opens/clicks, Facebook engagement, Twitter followers, website visits), but we only aim to increase these generally. Sales revenue is the key driver of decision-making.

What next for the team

Right now our team consists of:

  • Myself as CEO and CTO
  • 7 full-time employees (COO, content manager, designer, financial manager, curator/researcher, marketing manager, outlets manager)
  • Software development outsourced to Realm Digital.

During March and April we’ll reduce that by 6 people and keep only our COO, with financial management done on a part-time freelance basis by our current financial manager, Dezre, who will be employed by my other company Electric Book Works.

This is a big blow. But we’ll figure it out. I’m glad we’ve reached this point while we still have a funding runway to work with.

Nurturing the team

At Paperight we really do believe in nurturing each other wherever we can.  We assist each other projects, brainstorm as a team, motivate and challenge each other on various projects. Training each other was great fun and we were eager to share  our skill sets.

We shared our achievements and our plans over Skype on a daily basis, checking in with each other on our progress and keeping the team informed about what were busy with. Meetings take place on a weekly basis to go over what we have shipped  and planned to achieve in the next week. Monthly meetings with our mentors are an opportunity to see how we have progressed, make sure that we share the same focus and plan ahead.

We each have our own areas of functional authority which we use as a guideline for planning ahead. Generally though, our workload overlaps and we split the tasks according to who is available and most suited to the task.

Training workshops have included:

  • WordPress site building workshops (Arthur)
  • Basic business finance training (Arthur and Dezre)
  • HTML training (Arthur)
  • CSS training (Arthur)
  • SEO and social media training (Nick)
  • Spreadsheet training (Arthur)
  • An introduction to SA Publishing (Tarryn)
  • An introduction to Copyright (Tarryn)
  • InDesign/Photoshop (Nick)
  • Metadata management (Tarryn)
  • Productivity (Arthur)
  • Customer service (Yazeed)
  • Negotiation and sales (Arthur)
  • How paperight.com works (Arthur)
  • Defining your target market (Yazeed)
  • Google Analytics (Tarryn)
  • Managing personal tax (Arthur, Dezre)
  • Screencast videos (Philippa, Marie, Tarryn)
  • Mail merging (Arthur)
  • Base CRM (Tarryn)
  • URL shortening (Arthur)

Other crazy things we have done as a team:

  • The Shuttleworth Foundation behaviour questionnaire
  • Entering into writing competitions
  • Competing against Random House Struik in a soccer match

Most of the team were given code names:

  • Nick otherwise known as Nighthawk
  • Tarryn otherwise known as Terrorwolf
  • Dezre otherwise known as Deathray or Kim Possible
  • Marie otherwise known as Captain
  • Philippa otherwise known as Dr. Phil
  • Emma otherwise known as M
  • Arthur otherwise known as Arthvader or Arthur of the roundtable

Our favourite video links include:

Often-shared links and resources included:

Some favourite office games:

Favourite foods:

  • Bananas
  • Cake
  • Macaroni and cheese

Fun times.

Growing the team and its home

So I’ve been growing our team in numbers and, I hope, quality, for nine months now.

Tarryn and Nick, our content team, have been amazing. Both high-achieving type-As, they’ve ensured our products are meticulously documented and organised. A recent achievement has been their forty-page Paperight user manual for outlets. It’s beautifully written, and includes not only step-by-step guidance on using the site, but also clear guidelines and suggestions for how to use Paperight to grow a printing business, even beyond printing books out for people.

The content team has also been keeping our blog busy – Nick’s author-of-the-week posts are particularly enjoyable. We have a growing mailing list, and Twitter and Facebook followings. These will be increasingly important over time.

A major highlight of the last two months for me has been hiring our outlet team. Zimkita, Zukisani and Yazeed joined us in April with the job of signing up outlets and providing ongoing training and support to them. Each brings a different skill set to Paperight that’s been invaluable: Zukisani has contacts at almost every school in the Western Cape, especially in the underprivileged areas we’re targeting; Zimkita’s six years at Vodacom customer service make her our friendly and meticulous email- and phone-support person; and Yazeed’s experience running his family’s business, combined with a startling energy for producing high-quality work, brings great business-savvy to the team.

moving-in-arthur_2012-05-24 12.50.48An unglamorous but critically important side of our work over the last months has been Paperight’s back-office setup and systems (check out our view above).

Most importantly, Paperight is now a registered company with bank accounts. We’re days from moving into our new offices (sublet from Electric Book Works). We have workflows around various online tools for bug tracking, accounting, and document management, and our internal wiki is now a substantial store of invaluable info, from guidance to new staff and practical how-tos to recommended reading for team members.