In 2011, Anthony Smith launched Insightly, a CRM platform aimed at the SMB market, because he couldn’t find a customer management product that integrated with Google Apps products to his liking. So he decided to build a product and business to meet that need.
Anthony shares how he bootstrapped his vision and turned it into reality with over 400,000 users. He touches on the role the Google Apps Marketplace played in reaching the target audience, the collaboration tools used to get important customer feedback, and how his initial efforts on Google Apps Marketplace helped shape his efforts to engage other platforms and expand Insightly’s small business reach.
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Small Business Trends: Before we jump into the conversation, can you tell us a bit about your personal background?
Anthony Smith: I started Insightly just over two-and-a-half years ago. I found a need for a small business customer management solution that worked with and integrated with Google Apps.
I couldn’t find something in the marketplace that met that need, so I decided to do it myself.
Small Business Trends: Can you talk a bit about how you leveraged the Google Apps Marketplace to get the business off the ground?
Anthony Smith: This appeared to be a great outlet for us to get visibility with small business customers and really show off the integration we had inside of Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs and Drive. Customers that were already Google Apps customers, if they had a need for a solution outside of the features set of Google Apps, could go to the Marketplace. Then with just a couple of clicks, could install one of those solutions – and try it out.
We were fortunate to launch into the Google Apps Marketplace when there were only a few hundred apps. As we were built primarily on that platform, we managed to get some traction really quickly very early on. There was great feedback with the customers that used us and reached out with suggestions and features.
Small Business Trends: So you were able to use that not only to get the application up and running, get the customers on board, but collaboration with customers was key to moving the product along?
Anthony Smith: That was certainly the case for us.
Small Business Trends: What kind of tools did you use to really further the collaboration?
Anthony Smith: Apart from the Google Apps Marketplace commenting and referral system, we used Google Consumer Surveys to reach out to our customers.
We used Zendesk, an integrated support and ticketing platform for customer support requests/inquiries.
We also used 99 Designs to design some of the pages and get some early prototypes up.
In the early days, we did outsource some specific pieces of our code base; we used Odesk to do that.
Small Business Trends: How quickly were you able to get your first 1,000 users, based on that approach?
Anthony Smith: Using those specific tools and that approach, we had over 1,000 users within the first week. Then we grew to over 20,000 within the first three months.
Small Business Trends: How did the initial workings with the Google Marketplace (and the way you collaborated with the customers there) impact what you did when you started to move out to some of these other systems to expand the business?
Anthony Smith: We stuck with the Google customer base and Google Apps Marketplace. Then once we had a fairly solid feature set that integrated with all the key Google services, we had a chat with Microsoft and asked how we could be part of the Outlook and Microsoft Office ecosystem.
Small Business Trends: Are there things you’d do differently today than you did when you first started three years ago?
Anthony Smith: For the first year and a half, we were very much focused on the Web and having a compelling CRM (customer relationship management) experience. Then in 2013, we started to execute in earnest on mobile apps, IOS and Android.
If I had to do that over again, I think I would have concentrated more on mobile a little bit earlier in the life of the company.
Small Business Trends: If I were to ask what you’re going to focus on over the next year or so, would mobile be the answer?
Anthony Smith: That would certainly be one of the things; being able to pour a lot of resources into mobile.
Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more about what you guys are doing?
Anthony Smith: They can learn more on Insightly.com  and sign up for a free account. They can also find us on the Android and IOS marketplaces.
This is an edited transcript. To hear the full interview, click on the audio player below.
This interview on how to attract 20,000 users is part of the One on One interview series  with thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This transcript has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.
For more information on Insightly, visit this Insightly review .