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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Growing an Employee Scheduling Tool to Five-Figures a Month

Tadeus Gregorian
Tadeus Gregorian
August 17, 2021
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Germany
Revenue of startups
$10k-$25k/mo
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Growing an Employee Scheduling Tool to Five-Figures a Month

Tadeus Gregorian
Tadeus Gregorian
August 17, 2021
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Germany
Cause of failure of the startup

Tadeus founded Aplano, an employee scheduling tool. It covers time-tracking, vacation management, reports, availabilities, communication, and more. They are continuously growing and have surpassed five-figures revenue per month.

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Hi Tadeus! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

My name is Tadeus Gregorian, I am 32 years old and currently based in Hamburg, Germany.

Aplano is an employee scheduling tool. It covers all the necessary features needed for workforce management in businesses with up to 500 employees such as time-tracking with a punch clock, absence & vacation management, reports, availabilities, communication, and more. Currently, I am adding new features requested by our customers, working on the usability of the application, and increasing the overall performance of the application. Our business model is simple, Aplano is a subscription-based Software as a Service. For each registered employee in the application, you pay a certain amount depending on the features you need. We mainly focus on customers coming in through google and therefore set a strong focus on SEO.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I was working in a pharmacy, where I realized how even a small store needed scheduling software for its employees.

The way we managed employees and their working hours was very outdated. We used excel sheets and simple pen and paper to manage staff and their shifts. This caused lots of confusion and conflict among the employees. 

Before studying pharmacy I already had a passion for software development and was involved in a few projects. So after looking at the current solutions, I saw great potential. They were outdated, had bad UI, were overloaded with complicated functionality. And the barely usable ones were far too expensive.

I previously had written a scheduling software just to use it in the pharmacy where I was working. The idea wasn’t to make money off it. So I wrote the scheduling software and a task management tool which they are still using, and some other pharmacies as well. But then I decided to rewrite the application (the scheduling software) for all kinds of businesses.


How did you go from idea to product?

I realized that I would need helping hands if I did this, so I brought in my two brothers and a school friend. We mocked the UI with Sketch and developed the application with the latest web technologies.

Sure there were obstacles, unforeseen bugs are not uncommon, but we fought our way through. It took us about 2 years until we could go live.

First, we launched the software for free, at no cost. People would use software that nearly offered the same amount of features as our competitors, but completely free of cost, with better performance and a clean UI/UX. They helped us boost our ranking on google and at the same time, they tested our tool in a way we could’ve never done by ourselves. So after all bugs were fixed and our software was running smoothly we created 3 pricing models. As a token of gratitude, our first customers will remain in the premium plan for free forever.

Aplano Landing Page

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

We created a basic backlink profile for our Google presence, started a blog, and used Google Ads. So while optimizing our Google ranking we tried to target the right audience with Google Ads and later on used Facebook as well for more specific customer profiles.

We also tried cold calling for a while but realized that’s kind of a waste of time in this business. People don’t pay monthly for something they never really thought about. Well, they might, but we didn’t have any Wall Street sharks in our ranks and weren’t planning on catching uninterested fish.

After half a year we started to get in the paying customers, some big companies that would pay lots of money each month. That was a big morale boost for all of us, so we continued working on our UI, on our features, and so on. We were worried that during COVID we wouldn’t get many subscribers in, but luckily we weren’t that affected. Some major corona-testing stations signed up, with lots of registered employees. 


How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?

The business is doing good, it’s continuously growing. We don’t have many employees. We work mainly with freelancers and get some help in for our support chat and sometimes speak to experts regarding certain topics we aren’t too familiar with. Our main expenses are the ads. Our numbers I'd rather not share yet, I fear that would cause too much attention right now, and we enjoy growing under the radar. All I can say is we have surpassed the five-figure revenue per month.

We are growing and building a solid team with a healthy work environment and ambitious employees.


Since starting Aplano, what have been your main lessons?

I realized that you shouldn’t waste too much time making the software perfect. Launch as soon as possible, get in some valuable feedback from customers and users. I learned that there are tons of things you can’t expect, and the fastest way to face them is to go live and put your product out there.

Staying ambitious, focusing on your goals, and spending as much time as possible on the project is what got us where we are now. There is no low-effort way leading to major success unless you are insanely lucky.

What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?

It took us a while to find the right backend system for Aplano. Before using Firebase we struggled with slow processes in deploying the application and fixing bugs. With Firebase that problem vanished. 

We were competing in a market with well-funded companies and lots of manpower. What we were lacking in experience we had to make up for with hard work and long nights. So all of us started to specialize in different areas to be able to compete. We went through a difficult period but I have to admit, it was well worth it since all of us ended up learning new skills, gaining experience, and broadening our knowledge in the saas market. 

Ranking in Google was also quite the hassle. We didn’t have much experience at first and therefore faced the issue with a typical “try and error” approach. It cost us some time, but we started to understand how to deal with SEO in the end. 


What tools & resources do you recommend?

We use Slack, Trello, Sketch, GSuite, Ahrefs, Google Analytics, and Google Search Console. These tools were and are of great help to us.


Where can we go to learn more?

So this our website.

Here you should find all the information about our project, social media links, and more.

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