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Creating A Business Management Software - We Chat to Soapstone
by Startacus Admin
Collaboration is something we are very keen on at Startacus (check out our own startup Showcasing and Collaboration area) especially when it comes to making sure that your business runs as efficiently and productively as possible.
New and innovative technologies can be a real shot in the arm for working teams, often helping to create a focal point for a business’s activities and helping to ensure cohesion amongst all those involved in specific projects.
We have recently had the pleasure of running into the founders of one such new innovative collaborative software solution, Staffordshire based ‘Soapstone’. Keen to discover more about the industry, the technology, and the process of creating such a business, we had a chat with co-founder Mark Chapman, who talked us through some of the finer details.
Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about Soapstone; who is it for, and what does it do?
Soapstone is aimed at anyone who carries out work of pretty much any description for more than one client. It’s a relational database which, in effect, works as your personal assistant and office manager, giving you a way to keep track of (and be more efficient with) all of your customer information; so not only keeping all your customer address/contact details in one place, but the ability to manage quotes raised for those clients, and tools to effectively manage the projects those clients commission. It’s also incredibly useful for anyone who has remote workers; being able to share tasks and information in one place helps to both make sure that things are completed, but also that two people don’t both complete the same task thinking that no one else is doing it!
For anyone who is unfamiliar with this kind of technology, what differentiates Soapstone from other similar systems available?
We deliberately avoided using the name “CRM” in the title or the software, because we didn’t want Soapstone to be compared to Customer Relations Management systems. Soapstone offers a more rounded approach to overall client information, not just their contact details and the traditional focus on “leads” and “sales”. Being able to assign tasks to users of your group (whether associated with client calls, quoting for work or working on projects) means you can tell at any stage the progress of a piece of work, what any of your team is working on. Knowing if there is a clash of deadlines or resources means you can manage your time and allocate staff more efficiently, which increases your profit margin on a job, or allows you to complete more projects at the same time.
Can you give us an idea of how Soapstone came about? Was there an initial spark of inspiration or was it an idea that developed gradually?
The concept was born in one of those meetings (which I’m sure will resonate with a lot of folk) where a colleague asked a question along the lines of “does anyone remember that job we did for a company some years ago? We’ve got another one the same coming up and could use some of the information from that project…” Of course, no one could remember the project, no one could find any detail and the whole thing was started from scratch. Imagine being able to search all your information in one place, I thought…..
With the benefit of hindsight, what do you wish that you had known at the beginning of the project that might have been beneficial to the team?
We made a decision early on to develop it as a purely web based platform to allow for remote access. We later made it available for on site deployment (on a client’s server) which has been well received – it might have been good to have had more market feedback on hosting location right at the beginning.
How would you rate the Staffordshire area as place to create a tech business? Can you give our community an idea of the startup support / assistance that is available locally?
The Chamber of Commerce is an excellent place to start and offer training, advice and a mentoring system. Staffordshire Business and Environment Network (SBEN) and the County Council also play a huge part in supporting small businesses in the area. There are a wealth of networking and business meetup groups as well who are always ready to offer advice and help.
The business parks and enterprise zones have a vast array of small and growing businesses providing a wide variety of services and products, which did give us a great local test bed for the software!
As a new collaborative business management software, what would you say has been the greatest challenge the team has had to overcome, and what challenges do you think lie ahead in the future?
What to call it! Generally people know or understand what a CRM is and have an idea of if they need one or not. Because Soapstone is aimed at helping you manage your overall workflow rather than just your customer contacts, the tag “CRM” does not fit and I would love to find one word or phrase that sums it up and means something to the reader. In terms of challenges to come, I think it will be making sure that startups and small businesses are always aware of how they can benefit from using Soapstone.
Aside from useful technologies like Soapstone, can you share some expertise on how small businesses can ensure that they operate in a way that is effective, efficient, and collaborative?
Clear goals, written down and visible are critical to prevent you getting distracted from what you do as a business. Working well as a team (if there is more than one of you) takes effort but reaps rewards and finally (my pet peeve); if you have to have meetings, keep them short, focussed and actions driven – otherwise it’s a waste of everyone’s time!
Cheers for the chat Mark and the great insights into the industry!
Mi-IDEA Manchester Networking Event
27th Sep 2016
The teams from CISCO and Manchester Science Partnerships have teamed up to create Mi-IDEA, a post-accelerator designed to foster and nurture digital innovation in the North West of England.