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Playgroup / Communications / Germany

How I Started a Communication Tool for Remote Teams - Story of Playgroup

Hello ! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hey I’m Ben and I’m working on Playgroup, a communication tool for remote teams. It’s focused on providing a calm way of communicating, mainly by making discussions asynchronous and organizing them in a better way than we currently see in popular apps like Slack.

What motivated you to get started with? How did you come up with the idea?

I’ve worked remotely myself in the past and always enjoyed it, however the constant noise and attention that is required when using real-time chat has always bothered me. I’m a developer by trade and that means I need to focus most of the time, which is really hard when the tools you use suggest that you’re constantly available. People’s attention and focus-time are very precious and respecting that attention and time should be a high priority for any team really. So asynchronous communication seemed like a solid idea to fight the feeling of urgency and noise. I do believe there is a place for real-time communication and not everything should be discussed asynchronously but a lot of the times, async should be the default way of communicating on a remote team.

Can you tell us the story of your business from idea to where you are now?

I started developing Playgroup four months ago and have a pretty solid v1 at this point that I’ve iterated on over that time. I did start out by showing a simple HTML dummy to a few people, just to get some opinions early on and tried to get feedback from fellow founder here and there. I still have a lot to validate at this point, which means there a many assumptions and unknowns still. I am looking for the first customers to see if the direction I have in mind is actually worth going.

What has been your biggest failure or struggle?

I think my biggest struggle right now is talking to the right people and turning them into customers. I’m fairly certain there is demand for a product like Playgroup, because competitors are out there, however until somebody actually pays for it, that is just a theory. I do believe that once there are people using the product, it get’s easier to see a direction in which I want to go with it but finding those first customers is far from easy.

And what has been your biggest achievement or success?

I like to think that building a fairly complex product in 4 months isn’t too shabby :-)

The landing page got quite some good feedback and I learned a lot writing the copy for it, which is rather hard for me. So being able to ship the product in a fairly small timeframe and actually getting across what it does already feels like a success to me.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Sadly it’s still too early to say really. I can however share that the comparison pages I did to compare Playgroup to Slack and Twist have gotten a lot of positive feedback. People seem to understand the difference and why it might be superior in certain scenarios, which is a good sign I don’t have to work super hard to convince people in the first place.

Describe the process of launching the business.

So far I’ve really only launched to a small group of people and talked about it on Twitter, so I don’t think I’ve yet reached out to my actual target customers. Doing the soft-launch gives me the opportunity to collect early feedback about the product and ideas from fellow founder about a lot of things, like how I could position and market Playgroup. I’m planning to do a proper launch day on Product Hunt and cold email a few companies that would be my ideal customer (from what I’m assuming). I generally don’t think that for a SaaS business the actual launch is what moves the needle. I’d say it’s sticking with it and continuously putting in the work to increase your reach and value that customers get from using your product.

Did you use Betalist or PH or other Startup Launching Platform for Launching ? How was that experience ?

As mentioned above, I’m planning to do that but I wouldn’t expect too much of an impact. I also think that a successful Product Hunt launch depends a lot on the type of product you’re selling. Getting teams to switch work-related tools is pretty hard, because it causes friction on their end. And while PH might help with getting your product in front of more people, it’s not certain that You will reach the right people for all kinds of products.

What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue? 

While I don’t have any paying customers yet, I am currently planning to bill customers per seat per month. Mainly because the more a team grows, the harder it becomes to communicate in an organized fashion. So the value actually increases the larger a team gets, which means paying per seat makes a lot of sense. I am also thinking about a free plan for smaller teams, however at this point I’m looking for validation still, which means I want to see people actually paying for the product first.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? What are your goals for the future?

I did put a fair amount of work into building the application with growing teams in mind. That means I had to look ahead a little bit while actually coding the application, which will hopefully pay off at a later stage, when the application is used more heavily. I also listened to a lot of advice and revisited some of my original ideas, which slowed the whole process down but hopefully improved the product overall.

The biggest goal for the future is to first generate *some* revenue and validate the whole idea. If that works out, I’d love to spread the calm and async way of working remotely more because I see real Benefits for employees and companies in it. At a later point, Id love to offer a free plan for small teams and students so more people can benefit from the product that otherwise couldn’t.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like? 

I have a good feeling about the future, because more companies and remote workers seem to realize that being constantly available is counter-productive and that there are better ways. It would’ve been pretty unimaginable to advocate such a way of communicating a few years back when Slack was just entering the market. Right now though, I think offering a complement or complete alternative to Slack is entirely possible and I’m excited about it, because I believe calmer communication actually makes work more enjoyable.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I did learn maybe a little too much about taxes in Germany but that’s a complicated topic ;-)

Copywriting, positioning and marketing is something that I am just starting to understand better and I think that’s very important. The product can only speak for itself to a certain extent and it’s my job to actually tell the world that it exists and potentially offers a solution they’re looking for.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

So my tech stack is super boring — mostly Laravel / PHP and vanilla JS. There’s not even a real build step involved beyond a homemade bash script. Apart from that I don’t need much software, because I’m doing it all on my own so far. I’m using GitHub, Sublime Text, Apple Notes and most of the times just the simplest solution really. I do like how twitter can be helpful in connecting with people you would otherwise not reach that easily. I feel it’s helped me a lot in the recent months.

Who’s your most inspirational CEO or founder?

Oh that’s a tough one! I really like companies and people who know their personal ‚enough‘ and don’t strive for world domination. That being said I like companies like Basecamp, Balsamiq or Wildbit and the people who built them. Also Paul Jarvis makes a pretty strong point with his Company of One approach.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I really enjoy podcasts a lot and here’s actually a whole list of podcasts I listen to. They’re basically almost the same format, which is founders talking about their weeks and what they’re up to: here

Some of the books I’ve recently read and enjoyed are The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick, Anything you want by Derek Sivers (awesome story!) and Obviously Awesome by April Dunford

What’s your advice for fellow aspiring entrepreneur who are just starting out?

I think pretty much what people have heard before: Surround yourself with smart, like-minded people who you can discuss things with. Find mentors. Listen to your (potential) customers. And most importantly have fun while doing it — If you feel miserable all the time building something, it’s probably not worth it.

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