If you have been in the domain industry for any length of time, chances are you’ve come across Bruce Marler. Over the years, he’s been interviewed by several of the major domain blogs. Bruce is the founder of LocalTek, LLC which provides web development, WordPress development, search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, web hosting, cloud based services consulting, and Mobile App Development for small businesses.
Bruce and I are connected on Facebook. Bruce’s apps for Missouri.me were recently approved by Apple. In fact, when I saw the following status on Facebook, I had to follow up to learn more.
Success!!! Apple just approved both Missouri.ME apps!!! The “register side” app will be showing up tonight, the “consumer” side app is already in the store. The fun begins!!!
Mike: Bruce, what exactly is Missouri.me?
Bruce: Missouri.me is an app that allows businesses to offer loyalty programs to their customers but get rid of the pesky paper punchcards, instead the punchcard is right in their app (iPhone for now, Android coming very soon). But when we decided to create Missouri.me we wanted to do more than just offer a punchcard, we wanted to create something that allowed discovery of new businesses that someone may want to start doing business with. Version 1.0 has launched and the features coming out very soon expand the platform ever further to make it more social and proactive in encouraging usage of the programs. We are more than a little excited.
Mike: This is a fairly new direction for Missouri.me. What triggered the change in business model?
Bruce: We had quite a bit of success selling ads on Missouri.me but as time progressed it was obvious that customers are more averse to advertising buys than we had ever witnessed before, we starting working towards a new plan that focused on “mobile first”, we had actually started development of a rather extensive mobile app that would of allowed for some pretty amazing advertising methods in a mobile app, about that same time we had started to offer custom app development to our small business customers. My lovely wife, Tiffany (who handles operations and sales on a day to day basis and really is out there talking to customers everyday) and I would talk frequently about what are we missing, what opportunities are our customers giving us that we are not currently helping them with. After having several customers tell her that they wanted a punchcard app that was easy to use and cost effective we decided a major pivot was in order. Thats a tough decision to make, but one thing that someone should always do it listen to their customers. We were in the process of building something pretty expansive, but if your customer base is telling you what they want, listen. So, after some research I literally scratched what I was doing and started writing the code to build what is now the Missouri.me app.
Mike: You’ve developed several domains over the years, can you tell me the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the experiences?
Bruce: Pretty simple, and this will be a bit of a repeat from the above, do not be inward focused, no matter how great the technology is, no matter how “pretty” you make the site at the end of the day its about how people use it and what customers want. Simplicity is key.
If I were to add one more thing it is remember you will never be done. Pick the things that you have to have, build those. There is a roadmap I have created for Missouri.me, version 1.0 of any site or app should never be the final version. If you think it is you will never get it launched. We launched the first version to several friendly customers and were able to find a few tweaks we had to make before we went to full promotion mode which is really starting now. By understanding that product development is a process you can learn and grow and plan for long term success rather than just being able to say you have an app.
Mike: Digging back a bit, you once posted the following comment on your blog: “I truly feel the decision I made a few weeks back and executed this morning may be the most important decision I have made outside of children and marriage. Today I walked away from a six figure income at a leading technology company to focus on starting my own business.”
How tough was that decision and, looking back, how has your life changed?
Bruce: This is more of a loaded question than you realize, lets just say its not been all roses. People like to give a nice, perfect answer all the time, although I really only like to put a positive vibe out there, lets me honest, at times its been challenging. Luckily life has a way of working itself out and I have been blessed in my life and would like to think the positive focus helps lead to a positive outcome. I really have two favorite quotes that relate to this, “Opportunity looks a lot like hard work” by Ashton Kutcher and “Live in the future and build whats missing” from Paul Grahams MUST READ blog post about startup ideas.
Since that post I have started a business (LocalTek/Missouri.me) which actually has established itself as a leader in our region for web development and online marketing, we have a radio show that runs every month, we have hundreds of customers, and we just launched a new app (Missouri.me) that required a real time pivot to make sure we got ahead of a market that we could of stayed stagnant with. All that while I managed to get divorced, and then married, and be recruited back to the start up world to help launch some amazing new enterprise software around WebRTC, selling to Fortune 50 companies.
Has it been easy, no, as mentioned in the post that you referenced, walking away from a solid six figure income was not easy, and obviously I went back to work on some amazing new technology that I had to be a part of and now I can say I have successfully launched a company and been at the forefront of a technology that in two years has been established in 1.2 billion devices.
Without a doubt though, I learned more from launching a business, taking it from its infancy, raising capital, dealing with partners and investors, and working with small businesses everyday than anyone could ever learn just working in a cube everyday. I would not trade it for anything and am happy to say I made it to the other side just fine.
I have made a lot of great friends in the domain industry during this phase that helped me make it to the other side and I would like to thank a few of them here, namely Jason Thompson, Morgan Linton, David and Michael Castello, and Theo from DomainGang, and I have to give a major shout out to Natasa Djukanovic from dotME.
Mike: What is your strategy to make Missouri.me successful? What plans do you have and what plans are you executing?
Bruce: First and foremost make sure customers are delighted with the experience, both on the consumer side and on the business side. We start with that, if customers have a great experience they will use your product. That was our first step, we are so critical of ourselves its crazy. We picked a handful of customers that were must have, my advice to anyone is figure out what customers you need to evangelize for you and that will do a great job being your marketing by providing great service to them, do whatever it takes to win those customers. But not free, free is bad, it takes away and value. But make it happen. That was our first step.
After that we have major plans to work with community focused organizations, you can expect to see some announcements around that in the near future. We have built our platform in away that allows us to easily work with other organizations to offer services to businesses. Partnerships are key.
In parallel we are planning another launch that uses the platform that we created that will be specifically for partnerships outside Missouri.me, we wanted to not grow it to fast though so we waited. But we have people wanting to run, we will get there, but there is plenty of opportunity.
One other way to make a launch successful, talk to people, Tiffany and I both spend a lot of time speaking to chambers of commerce and small business leaders to really understand the needs of businesses. People forget sometimes, the technology is not something the business cares about, they care about tools they can use that create revenue or save money period. They could care less what code you write, what protocols you use, its all about the use case and the value that comes from it.
Mike: You’re leveraging a dot ME domain for this business. Tell me how and why you decided on the ME TLD and how if fits into your strategy.
Bruce: First off I just want to say, I told you so (well not you but others), dotMe has proven to be a favorite of startups (just watch TechCrunch for a week), its easily brandable and memorable. There were a lot of doubters up front, but when it comes to actual adoption and usage by real companies it has continue to show acceptance. Its impossible to argue at this time. We as a company own almost half the US state.me domains so it made sense to launch on one, we really focus on community and local focused projects and this allows that feeling of community ownership to come through for those in Missouri.
Mike: Do you have other domains in your portfolio or other development projects in motion?
Bruce: I will simply say yes, and they directly relate to Missouri.me, we are excited, we are making sure we do not get ahead of ourselves. But there are great things to come.
One other thing that Tiffany and I have been working on development wise is our Parkland.me series of community organizations, we live in a rural community in Missouri but I have always managed to live and stay local while traveling and working on bleeding edge technology. We have been working hard at developing both business side technology startup and business incubation programs with our ParklandMeetup.com series and also had MAJOR success with our ParklandProgrammers.com program that is teaching kids from 8 to 18 how to program and driving that knowledge worker growth from an early age in our community. This is something that people in our region did not usually have access too. We are very fortunate to of been taken in as a program under the Farmington Regional Community Foundation which is a 501c3 organization that allows us to drive our reach further in partnerships with local businesses and drive tech growth in the region.