Meet Dale and Nathan, the names behind Quotient. It’s a super-successful online quoting system at quotientapp.com that’s redefining the humble quote.
When you think of powerful cloud software, Hamilton probably doesn’t come to mind. Yet this city (an hour’s drive south of Auckland), affectionately known as ‘The Tron’, has a thriving tech community. One of its shining stars is Quotient. They won Xero’s Emerging Add-On Partner of the year award in 2012 and were regional winner of the Rising Star, Deloitte Fast 50 awards in 2015.
Before focusing on Quotient, Dale and Nathan built a successful web design, application and software development company, with an ever-expanding team.
Using creativity to solve problems
They’d always enjoyed using creativity to solve their own and clients’ problems. And they excelled when using their complementary skills to build micro systems to make the work lives of their team and clients more efficient.
The system that shined brightest was their online quote system. Their prospects and clients were exposed to it daily, and they loved what they saw. “They often told us that we won their projects based on our innovative quotes,” says Nathan.
These quotes were their point of difference, making them look like serious players. Which got them thinking, the first piece of collateral that a prospect or client is exposed to is the humble quote. It really is the perfect opportunity to make a great first impression, yet so many people treat quotes like a ‘necessary evil’ versus an opportunity to shine and make a great first impression.
“The quoting stage of a business’s workflow interests us because there’s so much potential wrapped up in these little good fortune notices. Helping businesses to save time, be more organised, make more money and look super-professional, is something that really excited us,” says Dale.
Taking an in-house quoting system to the world
Dale and Nathan got to a point financially in their business where they had the luxury of looking at a bigger challenge. They wanted to put both their skills to use and create something that would put a larger dent in the world, something to live on its own esteem.
“There is something good about sharing an idea and seeing people genuinely interested in it. It becomes personal and worthwhile,” says Nathan
After some soul searching and countless client requests to turn their quote system into a standalone product, Dale and Nathan decided to make it available to everyone. They knew it was going to take a lot of time and it’s hard to justify the expense, but they’ve never been driven by money.
The challenge to create a game-changing piece of software, to make businesses look more professional and gain efficiencies really excited them.
“The intention behind our decision was good; to put power in the customer’s hands. We feel that with anything with a little bit of magic tied to it, has far greater potential than just money. We’re more interested in leverage – doing something that has a bigger impact. And we had a belief in ourselves,” says Dale.
They handed the management of their growing web design business over to their team and devoted every waking hour to making what would become Quotient.
On a sunny day in December 2011, after a year of intense development, they quietly released Quotient and crossed their fingers.
“We spent a year working purely on Quotient. There was no deadline but plenty of effort. It was a slow, agonising start, thanks largely to our bootstrapped approach—no big marketing budgets here—but then once the sales needle moved steadily upwards, it showed no signs of slowing. Happy customers were helping spread the word about Quotient,” says Dale.
A favourite feedback of theirs is from a customer called Dan: “If these guys made beer it would probably be the tastiest beer around. But instead they make bloody great quoting software that gets jobs accepted. Well done.”
It sums them up nicely too. Despite their success, they’re everyday guys where little fazes them. Like when Xero launched their quote functionality. Quotient integrates with Xero, and in the early days a lot of their customers were also Xero customers (many still are). The Xero integration was instrumental to their early growth.
But what many customers found, including returning defectors, is nobody does quotes like Quotient. When you specialise in one thing and do it really well, it’s hard to compete with that depth of thinking, design, quality and intuitive approach that simply makes life better and ultimately more profitable.
Quotient has a growing list of integrations with other apps including Intuit’s QuickBooks Online, Insightly, Capsule, and MailChimp, with more on the way. Integrations with appropriate apps can be real time savers. For instance, when a Quotient quote is accepted online, it automatically appears inside Xero as a draft invoice. Then all you need to do is approve and send it to your client. No more double-handling or cross checking. It’s all done for you.
Fast-forward to 2015 when they sold their web company to a local competitor to concentrate on making Quotient the best online quoting system on the planet. To date, nearly 2,000 businesses (and growing every day) around the world agree with them.
“It’s a positive affirmation that we’re doing something right,” says Dale.
Use Quotient anywhere from any device.
What has inspired you?
“Making awesome software. Apple’s approach inspired us. They were willing to make a few hard design decisions for the benefit of the user experience as a whole,” says Nathan.
The book Re:work by the guys behind 37 Signals (most commonly Basecamp and Highrise) inspired them too. They had a scattergun approach to products, and developed one every three months, for a two-year period. Then one day they were only concentrating on Basecamp.
“We thought this was really interesting. We could apply what we had learnt and put this into another concept, and build something easier than starting from scratch. But that would only distract us from doubling customer numbers in Quotient. So it was great observing their journey and learning from it,” says Dale.
What’s your model?
“We’re bootstrapped – profitable and proud. Customers love what we do, so being self-funded has worked for us. If we had a much larger team to fund, this might be different.
“If we had investors they’d come with different priorities. But we will always be focused on our customers and developing the best quoting system for their needs, not shareholder goals, or profit, money or ROI. So as the product grows, it gives us more freedom to make our own choices,” says Dale and Nathan.
What’s your design and development methodology?
“We are design-centric. We hate clichés, but ‘keep it simple’ is a real driver for us. We started in graphic design and the emphasis back then was on fashion. Clients needed to look cool, but not necessarily be super-functional. We had a big shift in our thinking on what makes good design. Things have a natural flow and a good feel. You’re not sure why it feels good but it resonates with you,” says Dale.
“As we are smaller we can see through the layers – aesthetic design, and the engineering behind it, and how they combine to become a good user experience. So we started with a need ourselves and we had the ability to tie it all together as we are cross disciplined. Know the chain, how it works and why. In the end this makes each component stronger,” says Dale
“As companies get bigger those roles separate out and you may lose touch with that connection. So the advantage for us, by being small, is we get to touch everything and see it through to the end,” says Nathan.
With Quotient, Dale and Nathan are in a state of constant iteration. They have their update path and development plan. And they’ll often park things until the timing is right. So on one hand they aren’t constrained by time, like if they still had the web development clients with their deadlines. But everyone and everything is moving and innovating fast, so in that sense they are still under the pump to evolve and get their plans to the market as fast as possible.
Why do you do what you do today?
“Ultimately, we spend time on what truly matters to our end user. If we do a good job, and continue to make the product better, Quotient will sell itself. We’re not driven by money, because we are already pretty comfortable. We do what we do because it is exciting; we love making good stuff and delighting people; the human connection is important to us. Getting great feedback is exciting too,” says Dale.
“Being able to have a product in the marketplace that competes on the world stage. And being able to improve on it and work in an exciting industry is gratifying. The design and engineering side is personally rewarding for us, as well as not working for someone else,” says Nathan.
What big lessons have you learned?
“Learning how to manage feedback has been huge and knowing what requests to filter out. Email makes a hero out of anyone. (We all laugh.) So have a thick thin,” says Nathan, who handles customer care.
“Carve your own path and know what to focus on. For instance, we read a book and did everything opposite to it. So don’t necessarily follow what someone else is doing. Don’t assume the competition is doing it right. We have been caught looking elsewhere for validation. Just figure out what needs to be done for yourself; it’s the easiest path to where you are heading,” says Dale.
They’ve also learnt that you can’t be all things to all people; don’t get too hung up on stuff – just get it out there.
Would you do anything differently?
“We’re happy to admit we can always do things better or differently. Nothing is sacred here. But we keep it light as we have the same common goal. You have to give up some personal attachment or it would get on top of you,” says Dale.
What’s the vision for Quotient?
“The goal really is to continue making a great product that fulfills a big problem and gets more customers for our customers. If you focus on having a good product you don’t have to worry about money or being the biggest. It comes naturally. We like to help people make more money by being more professional and organised and saving them time,” says Dale.
“Quotient is still evolving. We’re working on some great features to make life even sweeter for our customers. We’re continuing with more software integrations and recently launched a range of quote examples for different industries, which is receiving a lot of positive feedback from our customers,” says Nathan.
After spending time with Dale and Nathan it’s like watching a combined, powerful mind where they finish each other’s sentences. They have a deep mental connection that shows in their work. They sense check everything with each other. Nothing is ever rushed. Everything that is in Quotient is there for a reason. They’re methodical and precise and it shows in the quality product that is Quotient. It’s a purity that is rarely witnessed in business.