IQBOXY is machine powered bookkeeping for your business

IQBOXY was started by 2 software engineers with a common pain point — outsourcing the health of our company’s bookkeeping to cheap labor was slow, led to more accounting errors and exposed personal financial information to preying eyes.

Along the way we were also inspired by John D. Rockefeller and his most sacred relic, Ledger A. He kept a detailed record of his receipts and expenditures so he could always know the health of his business and life.

“No less than his business life, Rockefeller’s private life was ruled by bookkeeping entries. Since he found numbers so clean and soothing in their simplicity, he applied the business principles…to his own personal economy. When he started working in September 1855, he paid a dime for a small red book, anointed Ledger A, in which he minutely recorded his receipts and expenditures. Many of his young contemporaries kept such record books but seldom with such exacting care. For the remainder of his life, Rockefeller treated Ledger A as his most sacred relic.”

~ (Chernow, Ron (2007–12–18). Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (Kindle Locations 1321–1325). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

It is 2017 and we believe that we needed to own the pulse of our business and that machines could do a far better job than a human behind a spreadsheet in the cloud.
Enter IQBOXY — machine powered end-to-end bookkeeping. With 0 (zero) human intervention.

IQBOXY Founders - Ernest Semerda and Dmitry Birulia
Ernest Semerda & Dmitry Birulia hacking at Y Combinator (W17 — https://www.iqboxy.com)

IQBOXY Lessons

Here are a few lessons from our journey building IQBOXY during the Y Combinator (YC) W17 — Winter program.

(A) How we figured out at IQBOXY how much to charge our customers

When we launched, customers questioned our FREE model.

“what’s the catch? why is it free?”.

So we said, “ok, how about we charge you”. And so we did and peace was restored in the kingdom. We used Stripe ❤️ to process all our subscriptions — honestly don’t waste your time with anything else. Stripe is so simple to setup and get going.

Lesson: some products customers expect to pay for. Especially when it deals with their financial records. So research your market and find a spot that’s competitive. Never get into a price war since the strongest financially always wins (MBA 101).

During the YC W17 program, Dalton Caldwell (a YC Partner) encouraged us to experiment with pricing. If you are a software engineer, you know this is fast to do — ahh the power of being able to hack something yourself really fast without the need for any fancy tools. Our KPI was revenue so we used Stripe to monitor the outcome of introducing randomly rotating pricing pages. You can also achieve this in JavaScript (the crude way) or do it on the server side using Python / Django templates. Then watch your Stripe subscriptions and compare to previous historical subscription data. The goal is to find a sweet spot where the change in pricing is positive or neutral.

Here is what we settled on (IQBOXY plans): https://www.iqboxy.com/business/#pricing

(B) What metrics are important to IQBOXY and why

Our KPI has always been MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue). Apart from being at the root of business fundamentals it is also a good indicator whether your customers love your product.

It’s easy to give away product for free. Anyone can do this in today’s digital distribution market. It is a lot harder to sell. Turning a user into a paying customer requires hard work to perfect product market fit.

  • The product has to be of quality,
  • The product has to solve a pain point and
  • The product has to add enough value that your users love it.

Apart from being at the root of business fundamentals it is also a good indicator whether your customers love your product or simply using it as a temporary swap in for the more expensive one.

(C) How do you balance trying new customer acquisition strategies and doubling down on ones which are working?

book-tractionWe followed the actionable framework and advice of Gabriel Weinberg in his famous book “Traction: A Startup Guide to Getting Customers”.

The book covers every possible marketing channel you can use to get traction, and shows you which channels will be your key to growth. You need to be organized and fastidious in measuring each channel. Then once you see 1 or 2 channels working, milk them.

Observe your Metrics

Finally, make it a ritual (a good habit) to review your business metrics daily. At first, most of it will be numbers and a bit chaotic. But over time your brain develops this beautiful connection and insights will appear.

Quick hack: To kick start this habit, create a new Chrome User called “Metrics”. Set Chrome to “Always open previous tabs” (located in Chrome > Settings). For each tab, open the sites you use to measure your business. For example:

Tab 1 — Stripe ❤️ dashboard to measure Revenue KPI,
Tab 2 — Google Adwords to measure your Campaign Strategy,
Tab 3 — Google Analytics to measure Web User Engagement or Blog performance,
Tab 4— Google Firebase to measure mobile User Engagement and catch errors,
Tab 5 — SensorTower to watch Customer Feedback and App performance,
and so on… you get the drift. Make this a habit! Otherwise you will never do this.

(D) Tips for driving mobile conversions

Today (2017) this is harder and slower than in 2012. But there are ways. And these methods require patience and persistence.

We started mobile first and did ASO (app store optimization) with the help of SensorTower. Initially it moved the needle slightly so but nothing like the early days of iTunes when the app market for keywords wasn’t so crowded.

Word of mouth ended up being the strongest driver for us. Our early users love the product and kept on spreading it to their friends and colleagues. A mobile bottom up approach is truly the most powerful form.

We ended up creating a communication strategy around this and would reach out to our users asking for reviews and comments on iTunes. Positive reviews & comments moved the needle the most on iTunes. This started to push our app position into a more visible spectrum. More downloads, more love, more ratings and more visibility — recursive circle.

~ Ernest & Dmitry
IQBOXY Cofounders
Y Combinator W17 cohort

Thanks to Alexander Strunkin (Deako YC W16), Urszula Semerda, Olia Birulia and Andrzej Bakonski for reading drafts of this.

This post was 1st published on March 20th on Medium under YC Stripe Publication: https://medium.com/yc-stripe/iqboxy-is-machine-powered-bookkeeping-for-your-business-f7c9af314866

Startup School 2010 – the recap, highlights & lessons

Startup School 2010 was a success! both on the quality of the turn out of entrepreneurs, speakers and the organizers – Y Combinator and Stanford BASES.

The day started on a nice crispy Saturday morning 16th October 2010. Breakfast was provided to all those that attended while the Dinkelspiel Auditorium at Stanford University was prepared.

Startup School 2010 - at Stanford, Dinkelspiel Auditorium
The morning of Startup School 2010 - at Stanford, Dinkelspiel Auditorium

Startup School 2010
Startup School 2010

Schedule

The theater got packed out with many great minds of all ages – even entrepreneurs 12 years of age eager to start changing the world. The following are notes I took during each of the speeches + video. Hope you enjoy the content and find it as valuable and inspiring as I did.

Brian Chesky (Founder of Airbnb) speaking to an audience of entrepreneurs. Spot me in the 3rd row! :-) Photo by Robert Scoble
Brian Chesky (Founder of Airbnb) speaking to an audience of entrepreneurs. Spot me in the 3rd row! 🙂 Photo by Robert Scoble

09:30
Andy Bechtolsheim
Founder Arista Networks; Founder, Sun Microsystems

Andy Bechtolsheim - Founder of Arista Networks & Founder of Sun Microsystems
Andy Bechtolsheim - Founder of Arista Networks & Founder of Sun Microsystems

Wow, what a great start to this day. Andy went over how Silicon Valley got to where it is today and then touched up on the following interesting topics:

  • The process in creating a business is in 3 steps: Discover –> Design –> Deliver
  • “Discover” phase has more value but typically less money is spent while moving to the right to “Deliver” has less value but more money is spent on it.
  • The Horizon Effect”, also a topic in psychology, outlines how the majority of humans only purse goals which are in our horizon, stuff we can see, instead of stuff we cannot see. Aim past the horizon like Christopher Columbus did when he sailed past to the horizon only to find that he would not fall off the edge of the world.
  • Great companies:
    • Apple – spends the least on R&D ($1.2b) and consumer research. They trust their gut instinct to deliver super products. They also have less products to maintain than most companies.
    • Google – expects to solve the impossible. Most of their success today is attributed to the 1 day per week given to their employees to brain storm & prototype new ideas.
  • Innovation is the never-ending search for better solutions.
  • Most successful companies have more than 1 founder.

10:00
Paul Graham
Partner, Y Combinator; Founder, Viaweb

Paul Graham - Partner of Y Combinator & Founder of Viaweb
Paul Graham - Partner of Y Combinator & Founder of Viaweb

Paul spoke of Super-angels vs. VCs and how the landscape has changed. I didn’t take notes during Paul’s speech since Paul made it available online here.

The New Funding Landscapehttp://www.paulgraham.com/superangels.html

10:30
Andrew Mason
Founder, Groupon

Andrew Mason - Founder of Groupon
Andrew Mason - Founder of Groupon
  • Initial site was a WordPress blog where Andrew would copy and paste group buy requests from ThePoint.
  • Early hiring advise:
    • Avoid titles (unless required for hiring purpose) and
    • Don’t create too much structure.
  • How to defend yourself against competition:
    • Build an awesome product and
    • Never get out-innovated.
  • Lessons from Groupon’s journey:
    1. You’re building a tool, not a piece of art. Don’t be blinded by the vision.
    2. Recognise and Embrace your constraints.
    3. Have a Growth plan.
    4. The best tools aren’t always that cool – email is worth 10x more to Groupon than Facebook/Twitter followers.
    5. You will probably fail – failure is real but you don’t have to fail.
    6. Quit now – signs are always pointing but you get to decide.

I highly recommend you watch the videos below of Andrew talking about Groupon since it’s both educational and entertaining (plenty of humor).

Video part 1 of 2Andrew Mason – Founder of Groupon @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fw6GxABcdy4
Video part 2 of 2Andrew Mason – Founder of Groupon @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIUlweek0FM

11:00
Break

11:30
Tom Preston-Werner
Founder, GitHub

Tom Preston-Werner - Founder of GitHub
Tom Preston-Werner - Founder of GitHub

12:00
Greg McAdoo

Partner, Sequoia Capital

Greg McAdoo - Partner of Sequoia Capital
Greg McAdoo - Partner of Sequoia Capital
  • “Leverage” is very important to demonstrate value in attaining VC funding.
  • Read about Achates Power “Fundamentally Better Engines” and how they did what GM couldn’t do in 20 years with half the staff.
  • Key points on the success of startups getting VC funding:
    1. They thought differently.
    2. They don’t throw money at problems, but ideas.
    3. They built simple easy to use products.
    4. They stay closer to the customers.
    5. They do more with less.
    6. They ship something early.
    7. They put a price on it early.

12:30
Reid Hoffman
Partner, Greylock; Founder, LinkedIn

Reid Hoffman - Partner of Greylock & Founder of LinkedIn
Reid Hoffman - Partner of Greylock & Founder of LinkedIn
  • There is around 7 +/- 2 of sites people have in their mind. Your goal is to be one of those 7. Search is in the 7.
  • Competition is the noise you need to get above. One way to do this is to make sure they sux and you don’t.
  • Release version 1 of your product asap to test your hypothesis early and to prove your ideas. If you are not embarrassed by version 1 you have released too late.
  • Build an intelligence network early, from investors, co-founders etc to help with testing your hypothesis (pivot).
  • Make social features available for when new customers ask – “who else is here that I know”.
  • Don’t plan for more than 6 months forward since the consumer internet changes rapidly.
  • Hire people who cohere as a group and learn quickly.
  • Solve your venture’s hardest problem of distribution e.g. how to get to massive size. And then you are on your way to success.

If you are on LinkedIn let’s connect. Just let me know who you are.
My LinkedIn profile is located here: http://www.linkedin.com/in/semerda

12:55
Lunch

Ron Conway
Partner, SV Angel and former co-founder of Altos Computers

Ron Conway - Partner of SV Angel + Ron's good friend McHammer
Ron Conway - Partner of SV Angel + Ron's good friend MC Hammer
  • Provide a service where users are happy and then monetize.
  • Entrepreneurs build and innovate companies and investors should be lucky to be a part of it.
  • Never forget its your company, the founder’s company.
  • Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.
  • It takes guts but anyone can do it.
  • It’s crazy to start a company with 1 founder. It’s all about building a great team. And if you are a founder you have to build a great team some day so why not build it the day you start the company – the 1st hurdles to get over.

There is more in the videos below where Ron outlines his journey and the journey of great friends from Napster, Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Video part 1 of 2Ron Conway – Partner of SV Angel @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvmYGK2Jhck
Video part 2 of 2Ron Conway – Partner of SV Angel @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjaI43_u3dk

Adam D’Angelo
Founder, Quora and ex-CTO of Facebook

Adam D'Angelo - Founder of Quora
Adam D'Angelo - Founder of Quora
  • It’s ok if something doesn’t scale as long as it strengthens your position.
  • Facebook leanings:
    • Good infrastructure early on saves future development time to correct it.
    • Get as much start-up experience as an employee so that later you can climb your own mountain with this knowledge behind you.

Quora is a great Q&A product with quality content.
You can find me on Quora here: http://www.quora.com/Ernest-Semerda

Dalton Caldwell
Founder, Picplz; Founder, Imeem

Dalton Caldwell - Founder of Picplz & Imeem
Dalton Caldwell - Founder of Picplz & Imeem
  • Don’t be a cannon fodder. Work on things you love. Life is too short.
  • Key before you start your own music startup:
    • Artists are poor so they won’t pay you,
    • The market is totally saturated,
    • The economies are challenging with required payments to labels every quarter and lawyers waiting for you to become big so they can sue you.

If you want a good laugh and learn heaps about the risks of starting up a music venture then you should watch Dalton’s music business review (videos below) of his 6 years of building Imeem, what worked and what didn’t.

Video part 1 of 2 – Dalton Caldwell – Founder of Picplz & Imeem @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pshTi9dk7Bw
Video part 2 of 2Dalton Caldwell – Founder of Picplz & Imeem @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TphryAOyY40

15:55
Break

Mark Zuckerberg
Founder, Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg - Founder of Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg - Founder of Facebook speaking with Jessica Livingston (Y Combinator partner)
  • Facebook’s mission is: Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
  • Mark stated that he acquires companies primarily for the excellent people. “Past handful acquires were a success so why not more.”
  • The goal is to build Facebook as the McKinsey of Entrepreneurship.

In the video below Mark speaks with Jessica Livingston (Y Combinator partner) on the initial days at Facebook, about the new movie Social Network and answers popular questions about Facebook.

Video part 1 of 2 – Mark Zuckerberg – Founder of Facebook @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjVACXklxJk
Video part 2 of 2 – Mark Zuckerberg – Founder of Facebook @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjuMARuv5sg

Brian Chesky
Founder, Airbnb

Brian Chesky - Founder of Airbnb
Brian Chesky - Founder of Airbnb
  • If you have an idea put it up there online, no matter what it looks like. You need the feedback early on.
  • Inventors of Obama O’s: Hope in every bowl! and Cap’n McCain’s: Put a maverick in your morning cereals – when the times were tough and money was required.
  • Had many unsuccessful launches but persistence got them through. Paul Graham stated “you guys won’t die, your like cockroaches”.
  • Michael Seibel from Justin.tv introduced Brian and his co-founder to the Y Combinator methodology and eventually to Paul Graham. Initially, Paul didn’t like the business idea. That changed quickly.
  • Brian used a classic motivation / psychology approach that Anthony Robbins teaches: “Whatever you focus on expands (you get)”. So he decided to focus on revenue by printing a positively inclined graph depicting revenue and pasting it on the bathroom mirror. This way it was the 1st thing he saw every morning and the last before going to bed to dream. It worked!
  • Paul Graham advised: “Go to your users”. So Brian and his co-founder flew to NYC, Washington DC and Denver and knocked on people’s doors to sell their service – “do you know how much your bedroom is worth?!”.
  • Then, David, Barry Manilow’s drummer posted his apartment for rent while he toured with Barry Manilow. This changed the direction of AirBnB and the 1st “wiggles of hope ~ PG” appeared. AirBnB launched version 5 of their product and started to be Ramen Profitable.
  • Today, AirBnB is in 8200 cities, 166 countries and traffic has started booming in the last 5 months.
  • AirBnB is now a “Community market place for space”.
  • All this started with an airbed in a living room to solve an accommodation problem.

The following videos are titled “Powerless and obscure” – 1,000 days ago (October 2007). How Brian started AirBnB and it nearly fell apart only to survive after the 5th launch. Very inspiring and educational.

Video part 1 of 2 – Brian Chesky – Founder of Airbnb @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOytubycHOg
Video part 2 of 2 – Brian Chesky – Founder of Airbnb @ Startup School 2010
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZ1fC6kAg5k

I also got to meet Brian the following day during Y Combinator Open-Day at AirBnB headquarters in SF.

Me with Brian Chesky - Founder of Airbnb @ AirBnB headquarters in SF
Me with Brian Chesky - Founder of Airbnb @ AirBnB headquarters in SF

In Conclusion

And that wrapped up an amazing, day at Startup School 2010.

My top 3 take away (learnings) from Startup School 2010 were:

  1. Find a solution to something people are hurting (strongly need) and they will pay you for it.
  2. It’s all about the “Experience”, not the technology. You are selling the experience not the technology.
  3. Build an awesome product that makes your competitor’s version sux.

Now it’s time for action!

Ernest