Len Epp and Peter Armstrong are the co-founders of Dashcube. Dashcube is a software product to support distributed teams by combining planning and communications. In the following interview we cover a wide range of topics from cofounder background to building and marketing Dashcube.
Success Harbor: What is your business background?
Len Epp: After finishing a doctorate in English Literature at Oxford, I worked as an investment banker in London, working on European utilities M&A for Macquarie. After two and a half years I decided to move back to Canada, where I’m from, and after spending some time writing, and cofounding a nonprofit, I joined Ruboss, a software consultancy which was cofounded by my old high school friend Peter Armstrong, where I led customer development for two years at Leanpub. At the same time, I was helping with client work that eventually turned into the product Dashcube, where I am a cofounder.
Peter Armstrong: After completing a B.Sc. in computer science and psychology, I spent 8 years working as a software developer for Silicon Valley startups, before founding Ruboss in 2007. Ruboss is a boutique software consulting company, currently with 12 employees. Scott Patten joined Ruboss as a cofounder in 2008, and in 2010 we launched Leanpub, which had been bootstrapped by our consulting work. I’m still CEO of Ruboss today.
Success Harbor: How did the three founders connect and became business partners?
Len Epp: Chris Carkhuff was leading a private blue-sky research and development team that aimed to commercialize his father, Robert Carkhuff’s, lifetime of research into human capital development. (Robert Carkhuff is probably best known for his book “The Art of Helping”). In the course of their research Chris’s team came across one of Peter’s books, and decided Ruboss would be the right company to assist them in their research and development of a new product. While this research was underway, Len joined Ruboss and worked with Peter on Chris’s team. When we decided the product was ready to launch, the three of us were each given cofounder status on Dashcube.
Success Harbor: Why did you decide to start Dashcube?
Len Epp: Our headline answer to “Why Dashcube?” is: Dashcube combines planning and communication to profoundly transform both team and enterprise productivity through “communication in context”. Dashcube started out as an R&D product led by Chris. Broadly speaking, Dashcube emerged from a combination of Chris’s research into human capital development, combined with Peter’s insights into productivity and collaboration. Chris had been thinking about team collaboration for decades, and Peter had been thinking about individual and team productivity ever since reading Getting Things Done in 2006 and Marc Andreessen’s “Pmarca Guide to Personal Productivity”. Peter’s first book, Flexible Rails, even built a GTD-style project management app called “Pomodo” as its sample app.
Success Harbor: How would a business use Dashcube?
Len Epp: The key idea behind Dashcube is that if you are going to structure your work, then you should communicate about your work in that same structure. Think of every task in your work structure as a robust discussion room, where all internal communication about the task is captured forever. This means all communication is always connected to the work it’s about.
So, a business should use Dashcube for all internal planning and communications. This will improve productivity, effectiveness and quality by allowing for communication in context.
The big picture here is that once planning and communication are combined in Dashcube, real-time activity is surfaced across teams, projects and the entire enterprise. This unlocks great potential for analysis and engagement that is not possible when planning and communication are not connected, allowing for a new way of working and managing work.
A business could use our project replays feature to analyze work from the last week, or month, or from the beginning of any project. You can search the database of all communications as well, thus giving your business a memory, but also a context, since all searchable communications are part of a defined element in the structure of your projects and organization.
And the best part is that you get all of this “for free” if everyone is using Dashcube to plan and communicate: they don’t have to update anything artificially in order to generate reports for analysis.
I like to say that if you get your business using Dashcube, for the first time you’ll get to see the big picture as a coherent whole – just like the first time we saw a picture of the earth from space.
We also enable easy private chat rooms for groups of people discussing specific or general subjects, and private one-on-one messaging; these conversations can be held both in text and in video, without leaving Dashcube. Since we also have Android and iOS apps, our intention is to enable an easy hand-off from working and communicating using Dashcube on the computer, to using it on your phone, and vice-versa.
Oh, and perhaps most importantly, you can radically reduce the need to arrange catchup meetings and interrupt people, thus saving enormous amounts of time and dramatically improving your organization’s productivity.
Success Harbor: How is Dashcube differentiated in the market place?
Len Epp: Dashcube is based on the idea that, as good as the many collaboration apps out there are at doing what they were built for, they perpetuate a basic problem in our conventional working practices: their premise is that you should do planning in one app, and communicating in another (e.g. email). This means that our competitors tend to favour communication over planning, or planning over communication (a key giveaway is when communications are reduced to the status of mere “comments” on tasks, or hidden in the UI). Dashcube’s places equal importance on planning and communication.
Success Harbor: What is the role of customers in building/improving Dashcube?
Len Epp: We follow the customer development model. We listen closely to everything our customers have to say and do our best to “get out of the building” to understand their real needs and problems. This does not mean just doing what everyone tells us to do, of course, but our engagement with customers is key both to our product development and a reflection of our deeper philosophy.
Success Harbor: How did you validate your idea?
Len Epp: We are pretty confident in our own judgments, but we felt our idea was validated when we spoke to some prominent investors who were interested in what we were doing and who told us we had a great product – and now it was time to go get some users. So, we are currently validating our idea in the market, by engaging with early adopter users.
Success Harbor: How many businesses are using Dashcube?
Len Epp: We don’t know how many businesses are using Dashcube, but even without any meaningful press we are signing up users at a steady rate. Currently we have over 1000 signups, and are adding signups at about 10% per week.
Success Harbor: What is your revenue model?
Len Epp: We are going to offer a conventional tiered SaaS-style pricing plan billed on a monthly and annual basis. There will also be a free account option, enabling consultants and businesses to invite clients in to view what they are doing in Dashcube and contribute to discussions.
Success Harbor: What is your marketing strategy?
Len Epp: Currently we have a minimalist bottom-up social media strategy specifically targeting early adopters through Twitter and Facebook, with the aim of convincing individuals to sign up for our beta program. We are also producing content on our blog and speaking and presenting at conferences, with the intention of making a genuinely meaningful contribution to current discussions about 21st-century management and collaboration, remote working, and the future of work. Here’s an example: http://blog.dashcube.com/three-principles-for-managing-knowledge-workers. That way, we hope to catch the attention of thought leaders, decision makers and the tech media.
Success Harbor: What marketing channels are the most effective?
Len Epp: Currently we’re really only using two, Twitter and Facebook, and we don’t have enough data to offer a validated opinion about which is better for us. We do know that Twitter and Facebook have been much cheaper for us per user than Google Ads and LinkedIn were.
Success Harbor: What are the greatest challenges you and your partners are currently facing?
Len Epp: We are very fortunate to have an excellent development team and committed investors, so currently our greatest challenge is getting attention.
Check out Dashcube at dashcube.com.