This is one of those dudes that I really think: Man, I wish I have come up with some of this ideas. Mr Dan Norris, not only a great guy, but one of the top web design + SEO + marketers out here in Australia. I started spying Dan work a few years ago and well…. I quickly realized this is one of the Awesome people in this industry.
So here is my interview about Dan’s latest work, Web Control Room, a very cool, simple and powerful app that can empower business owners to understand what EXACTLY is really going/happening with their websites and marketing strategies.
OK, Dan… so let’s get to business, from Web designer authority to owner, CEO and creative genius behind Web Control Room…. why did you switch from web design to software development?
I ran my web design business for 6 years and in the early days I learnt a lot, by the end I was just going through the motions. I’ve always wanted to be entrepreneurial and create something. I guess by the end I felt like I wasn’t really doing that. I started working on Web Control Room as a side project but I found I couldn’t focus on either business as much as I wanted to, so I decided to sell the web design company and focus on WCR full time.
Tell us about WCR and how did you came up with the idea?
Web Control Room is for tech savvy business owners who use the web for the majority of their services (i.e. client communications with MailChimp, accounting with Xero, web stats with Analytics etc) but don’t want to log into each one every day to see how things are going. It enables them to see charts representing the most important data from all of these types of sources all on the 1 page (or via their mobiles).
In the early days of my web design business I used to write manual reports in Word each month for my clients. These reports would include information such as where they were ranking in Google, whether their website visitors were going up or down etc. After a while I realised it was silly doing so much manual work so I built a system to do it for me. As some point I figured that other web design agencies would want the same thing (branded client reports for web stats). But as the cloud started taking off it became clear that this wasn’t just a service for web stats. With accounting systems, storage, CRM and other services all heading to the cloud, I could see there being an opportunity to provide this service direct to any business.
As far as I know you are not a coder or developer, how challenging was to make the idea a reality…
That’s correct. In the early days I learnt code but I’m never any good with routine tasks so before long I was employing developers. The very first version of the app (which wasn’t called Web Control Room) was built by a developer I found on Elance. Over the years it was updated by internal developers until we scrapped it and started again from scratch with Web Control Room. It’s obviously not the most efficient way to build something but sometimes it’s the only way.
Let’s talk about the app, what exactly does WCR do?
Well if you think about an accounting system like Xero for example. Xero is an awesome tool but getting actionable reports out of it can be a time consuming process. For example I counted 15 clicks to get a list of who your top customers are for a given period (it involves exporting to Excel etc). Then do the same thing for calculating your customer value or your conversions in Analytics or your rankings for your keywords and you are all of a sudden spending a lot of time trawling through stats. Add the complexities of getting this info on your mobile and it’s worse – complicated charts, different systems, wasted time.
With Web Control Room we can show you a list of your top 10 customers in seconds among a range of other charts from other services. You can just log in each day / week / month and skim the charts to see the info. We colour code things so you can skim the reports for red areas that need attention and you can break charts up into different rooms if you have different websites or divisions in your business.
What about security?
The cool thing with modern cloud services is most of them have adopted security protocols that enable us to ‘talk’ to that service without the user entering any usernames or passwords. Just like when you log into a service using your Facebook account for example where it says ‘Allow access’, we do the same thing so we just require a 1 off permission and from there we can talk to the service. In most cases we don’t even store the information in our database – we just get it live when you access our app. The whole app also runs on an SSL so anything you do enter into the app is encrypted. This is more for peace of mind, our users rarely have to enter anything sensitive into the app.
Can you give me some specific examples of how WCR can help web owners to simplify their lives?
For sure, Dan Andrews from the Lifestyle Business Podcast has a $2mil plus products business and a range of online businesses. He logs in every day to get an overall view of how his sites are performing. He calls it a ‘morning newspaper for his business’. Melissa Shanhun runs a growing online digital scrapbooking business. She logs in every day to check which content is having an impact (email newsletter open rates) and her website traffic stats. She loves it because it enables her to keep her finger on the pulse of her business and spend more time on content marketing.
So far, what has been the feedback from your BETA users?
It’s been great, we have around 150-200 active users before I closed access a few weeks ago. People are saying some great things like ‘Thanks for helping solve a problem most of us face every day’. We’ve also got some great ideas from users as we prepare for launch in a few weeks.
Where do you see WCR heading and what are the plans for the application?
Well we will launch it to the public in a few weeks which will include a free starter plan and a paid business plan. From there we will focus on developing the agency version that will allow companies like web design agencies and SEO companies to send branded reports to their clients in a format that their clients can understand – no more complex charts that only geeks (no offence) can understand. We’ll obviously continue to add more services to the core app as well and keep our normal users happy.
After that I’ve got a few ideas where I might take it but being a startup I’ll be looking closely at how the main app is received before I decide too much more. The main things will be looking for innovative ways to present information that people can’t get by logging into individual systems and looking for more creative ways to get them the information.
How do you think your experience as a web designer and marketer helped you to develop WCR?
It’s important to create a beautiful product and anything less than that would be laughed out of the startup scene so having the design background helps with this. It’s also very difficult to get noticed and generate traffic to a brand new site so my content marketing experience an general traffic generation / SEO skills have come in handy. In a few months my site is already at 50% of the traffic of my old blog which took me years to develop and I believe it will become much bigger in a short period of time.
What is the biggest lesson you learn so far by creating WCR?
I think my biggest lessons are yet to come. The beta stage has been pretty painless but once we launch a paid plan I’ll know for sure how it’s going to be received and I’ll learn a lot from that. One of the main things I’m doing differently with this business is trying to focus on actionable metrics and getting the best data possible. So instead of relying solely on how I’m ranking in Google for big keywords I’m looking at all of my different traffic strategies and focusing on the ones that convert the highest. SEO is still part of the strategy but it’s only 1 part. Instead of relying on Analytics for website visitors, I’m using Kiss Metrics to track ‘people’ so I know exactly who is using the app and how they are using it. This is going to make my experience in building this business a hell of a lot more efficient I think.
For any one out there looking to contact you and learn about WCR , what is the best way to contact you?
I’m pretty easy to contact, visit http://webcontrolroom.com/about where you’ll find my email, Twitter, Facebook, Linked in, Skype and mobile number. If they go there in the next few weeks they can enter their email to be notified first when we launch in a few weeks.
Thanks for interviewing me and well done on the work you are doing. As you know I am very passionate about content marketing and you are doing a great job at providing fresh and unique content to your audience. Thanks for letting me be a part of it.
My pleasure mate!