Building a different kind of piano service company

Let us introduce you to DHH, he is a software guy who has a really radical view of how a business should function. Let me unpack for you the things I took away from this video as an owner of a piano service company.

People who have never worked for someone are really bad managers

Corporate America does a really good job at one thing, teaching people how to manage projects and people. Some thrive on this model, others get their soul crushed. But when you survey the landscape of people who are running piano service companies, everyone it seems is a solopreneur. If you look closer some people do a better job managing their company than others, and by extension find more success. However, when you ask them for a job you often are met with resistance. Why?

I think the answer is in the individual. I didn’t know I was a horrible manager until I hired people. When a solopreneur becomes a manager, their weaknesses are put on full display. It is a challenge, and if you don’t prepare and focus on becoming a great manager then your business will suffer.

Build profit into your company regardless of your size

If you don’t have a profit then you have a failing business. Now DHH runs a wildly successful software product that supports millions of users with 15 employees. We run field service companies that are not as scalable. But the truth of this statement is the same. If you don’t have profits your piano service business will suffocate. It is that simple. If you care about the future of our industry, then you need to build a profitable business.

How much profit should I have? Around 10% gross margin is good in the service industry. In layman’s terms, this means you are putting aside 10% of your revenue into a savings account that you never need to touch. The other 90% gets spent on your expenses and paying you wages. If you are spending more than 90% of your revenue then you have a big problem on your hands. Either you are mismanaging your company, spending too much, charging too little, or not filling your calendar with enough work. Profits are simply a sign that you are a healthy business, so if you don’t have any then you need to wake up because your business is on a suicide mission.

You can’t outspend big money, but you can out teach them

You need an audience, not customers. We are quickly moving into an era where personalization and education are more important than the product you sell. In a world where you can easily learn anything you want, the businesses who survive will be the ones who learned how to out-teach their competition.  All of your marketing needs to be focused on teaching your customers about their piano. Who cares if you are the best piano technician in town or not. If you out-teach your competition then you will build an audience that turns into your ideal customers. It is all about building an audience. Remember that and apply it to your business today.

Not Every Day Can Be a Home Run

Sometimes you just have to be willing to stop and start over when you find a better solution. We had this happen to us recently…

We have been working on some big features since October of last year. At the time we discovered that a specific piece of technology was not available so we weighed the cost of building it ourselves. After months of planning and building automated tests to ensure stability, we started breaking ground on the new feature. During the final rounds of testing, we thought we were ready to release, but a few edge-case bugs were discovered late in the game that required more time. But our willingness to delay our release paid off when we got some very welcome news … one of our existing vendors had just released a much better (aka more flexible) version of the technology we were trying to build.

Now we had a choice, use what we built with our own two hands and support it for the long haul – or – do even more work to scrap what we had built and rebuild with the new feature in our toolbox, and delay our launch. Gazelle is not immune from bad ideas, but we try not marry them. We made the choice to delay our big feature for another few weeks and rebuilt the entire backend from scratch using a more reliable and flexible piece of technology.

Building a software is full of little decisions like this that will either help or hinder your long-term growth. We have made a commitment to our customers to support your business by always striving to make the right decision that will ensure the long-term success of Gazelle.

Stay tuned for some exciting announcements from Gazelle over the course of the next week!


Fighting for Simplicity


“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”  – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


Designing a program like Gazelle is far more involved than you might think. However, the difficulty is not writing code, it is in keeping it as simple as possible. At the core of any great program is simplicity.

Think about it, if you had to babysit a herd of rabbits:

  • Would you rather it be 1 Million rabbits or 10,000?
  • Would you rather they be male or female?
  • Would you rather them be large or small?

No doubt, keeping track of a herd of rabbits is a monumental task. However you answer the questions above – “less” –  is always going to be the right answer.

One of the biggest assets Luke and Nathan bring to Gazelle is this, they are sticklers for writing simple code. After all, they have to babysit the herd of rabbits they are developing. When they get the call to fix a bug, they don’t want to trip over 1 Million bunnies any more than you do.

Luke and Nathan are not contractors, they are the foundation of this company. And because they will be supporting Gazelle for the long haul, they are working hard to keep it as simple as possible.

The next time you see them, feel free to ask how their code bunnies are doing:)