Monday, 11 January 2010

KeepMeBooked: "The Zendesk of Hotel Management Software"?

KeepMeBooked is very much inspired by Zendesk, the web-based helpdesk tool. Zendesk helps companies track and respond to support requests from customers: recording what happened, who responded, how quickly, what they said, etc. We used it when I was at ViaPost and I love it.

Like Zendesk, KeepMeBooked operates in a very crowded marketplace, but where the existing offerings are over-complicated and hard to use, and mostly involve a complex, no-turning-back installation on a local PC / network. Like Zendesk, KeepMeBooked isn't doing anything radically different from its competitors, other than focussing almost entirely on making a product which is easy to use. And remember, 'easy-to-use' as in 'quick to use', not as in 'dumbed-down'.

Two years after being launched by three Danes in Copenhagen, Zendesk now has over 1,000 paying customers, fancy offices in San Francisco and funding from Benchmark Capital. I'd happily skip the fancy offices and VC funding, but still find their story inspiring.

I spent a pleasant couple of hours recently re-reading some of their early blog posts, here are a few highlights:

Sep 07: Judge for TechCrunch awards unimpressed. Their interview was
'a mildly awkward affair. It was over in four minutes and basically ended with Jason [the judge] saying "So you've built a help desk with a blog and a some RSS?". Ouch!'

I can relate to that! It is very hard to explain that your software is game-changing because, er, it is easier to use. Everyone says their software is easy to use. One of our differentiators at 0800handyman was that we offered great service. But of course any plumber will tell you that they offer great service. Just saying that doesn't differentiate you at all. Only when people start using you, and start telling other people that you offer great service (or that your software is easy to use) does it start making any difference.

Feb 08: They've clocked up 1,000 customers in first 100 days. New customers (by which I think they mean signups, including those that don't convert free trial to paying accounts) cost $60 in acquisition costs. Reassuringly close to my complete guess of £50 per customer.

In the same month, we see a few of the reasons why Zendesk moved to Boston, USA. e.g. having to bill all Amex customers in Danish Crowns (and users of other credit cards in US Dollars). Resonates with me trying to find a UK commercial insurer who has heard of web-based software.

June 08: Zendesk proudly highlights a commentator comparing Zendesk to 37signals. Looking forward to when someone compares KeepMeBooked with Zendesk: "The Zendesk of hotel management software".

They enjoy rapid customer growth through the summer of 2008: June - 2,100 customers; July: 3,000; August: "almost 4,000".

“We’ve worked very hard to keep Zendesk beautifully simple, so support staff and their customers can start using it right away as easily as they might buy a book at”
Just saying your software is 'easy to use' is bland and quickly forgotten. Saying it is as 'easy as buying a book at Amazon' is somehow much more powerful.

By now Zendesk has got a Facebook group going, and is having regular real-life meetups around the globe: NYC, Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, San Francisco. Kind of extraordinary that people are already enthusiastic enough about some helpdesk software to meet up in a bar to chat about it.

Nov 08: Again, Mikkel comments how hard it is to
'explain why "beautifully simple" is a differentiating concept for both our business model and our product'
and cites a study showing that user adoption is the most critical factor for enterprise software success, and argues that a beautifully simple user interface is the easiest path to effective user adoption.

May 09: Close funding from Charles River Ventures and move to Boston.

And from then on its just a long stream of new feature announcements and even more meet-ups in bars around the globe.

If you are in the early stages of running a web-based software business I'd highly recommend a browse through Zendesk's early blog posts to keep you fired up and inspired.

(cross-posted at the KeepMeBooked blog)

(updated 14:20 to correct capitalization of Zendesk (not ZenDesk))

Still using a desk diary to manage your reservations at your guesthouse, B&B or hotel?
KeepMeBooked: simple web-based reservation management

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