In the increasingly digital and connected world we work in, “that’s a good idea” has become “there should be an app for that”.
For women, building an app could provide an opportunity to transform your working week and even launch your own business – if you can spot the right gap in the market.
Sydney-based Bronwen O’Brien found her own gap in the app market, and has just launched an app for virtual assistants (VAs) called DigitalSorbet. O’Brien has been running her own VA business for four years after she left her job as a corporate executive assistant to have her first baby in 2008.
“I outsourced the only skill I had. I didn’t realise at the time that virtual assistants were an emerging industry,” O’Brien tells Women’s Agenda.
After two years of solid business growth and new clients, O’Brien says she was running out of free time and found working with multiple software systems frustrating. “The software often couldn’t do exactly what I wanted it to do, and getting the different programs to talk to each other was just too difficult,” said O’Brien. “So I started thinking about creating an app that did everything a VA would need it to do and nothing else.”
These thoughts became a plan as O’Brien was doing her monthly financial summary and realised she was spending $200 a month on software. She sent a survey to her LinkedIn contacts to see how wide-spread the issue was. “I got about 150 responses. Once I had the confirmation I wasn’t the only one annoyed at the issue, I started looking for the technical skills. I had no idea where to go, where do you even start?”
O’Brien originally imagined outsourcing the creation of the app, thinking she’d pay someone to do it as a project. “The quotes I got back were around $150,000,” she says. “I also discovered most project-based app creators work to your brief, deliver the app and then step away. There would be no ongoing support. So I kept looking.”
She discovered the idea of “tech founders”, and partnered with Blue Chilli in 2012. “They provide the tech experience in exchange for equity in your app’s business. They’ve got the knowledge in the tech start up industry, invested interest in your business and there is ongoing service,” she says
After accepting O’Brien’s pitch, Blue Chilli owns 20% of the equity in DigitalSorbet. “I know they receive almost 2,500 a year. I was pitching while heavily pregnant with my second baby, and texting about it while I went into labour! I was that determined to make the app a reality.”
A couple of brainstorming sessions, contracts and months of software development later, O’Brien sold her virtual assistant business and launched the DigitalSorbet last week. The browser-based app allows virtual assistants and small business owners to manage their clients, tasks, files and workflow in the cloud. It also includes a time-tracking and invoicing system. The software is free for the first five clients, and then requires a monthly subscription based on the number of clients your business serves. “There were 200 sign ups in the first two days,” says O’Brien. She’s looking forward to beginning to market the product in the new year.
“It’s the time of year when people are reflecting on their businesses and getting organised,” she says.