I’m Eric Perchuk, the Founder and CTO of JotCast, and I would love to share how we created a moderated chat hosting platform that drives customer engagement and creates community without being cost-prohibitive.
I spend the large majority of my time on computers – both for work and for hobbies. One of my favorite hobbies is fantasy baseball, and I’m often reading articles and checking out interviews on fantasy sports sites. On my favorite site, there are often Q&As and live chats with players, but they were frustrating to read because of lagging software, poor design, or messages that were duplicated or posted out of order.
I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. There were often comments from others in the chat mentioning their annoyance, but the response was always that nothing better was available. Then, the site staff threw down the gauntlet: “If you can make a better program, do it, and we’ll use it,” a staff writer said.
I thought about it and decided, yes, I could definitely make a better program. I called up a friend, told him my idea, and we got to work.
First Customers, and Putting Customers First
We built the platform, tested it, and then built it again. It took time, but when we were confident that we had software that was well-built and avoided the programming issues that the current platform experienced, we contacted the website that had issued the challenge. We offered to let them try it out and see what they thought, and then we waited.
The first chat with JotCast got great reviews from readers, who appreciated a clean interface and bug-free code. The staff, however, had a few suggestions for features they wanted to see, so we built them without knowing if this work would pay off for us. When they decided to sign up, we took a risk by asking them for an introduction of any other site that might want to use JotCast, too. They suggested a site that soon became our second paying client.
Ultimately, we want to hear what they have to say. We created JotCast because we thought it would be helpful to people, so whatever we can build into the platform to improve the user experience – more customization, more features, improved functionality – we’re happy to do it. Our customers have given us ideas for some of our best features, like the ability to create quizzes in the chat. JotCast is about helping people create a community – and that includes us! Thankfully, the JotCast community has some really great ideas.
Flexibility Is Key
Since our first two customers were in the sports industry, it was clear there was a market. We figured that we would focus on sports communities. We reached out to a respected sports blogger, and when he signed up, we thought we’d found our niche. We were pleasantly surprised when we got an email from a potential customer in the education industry. We were shocked to see that the company was based in the UK. They’d come across our website when searching for a chat platform and had some questions. We discussed what that customer was looking for and expanded our functionality to meet the needs of the client, which had the added bonus of enhancing the platform for our other customers along the way.
Other clients in education found us, but there, too, we were surprised. While our first customer in the education sector had used us to virtually teach elementary and middle school classes how to blog, the next two educational institutions that joined used our software to host live Q&A sessions with both incoming and undecided students. It became obvious to us that JotCast’s capabilities could fit more fields than we’d initially thought.
We started thinking more broadly about who could benefit from the platform. When we started opening our minds to what was possible, our client base grew. It has since expanded to include publications, nonprofit organizations, corporations, and more.
For a while, JotCast plugged along with a (very) a small number of (very) happy customers. Out of curiosity, we checked out the website of our largest competitor. That’s when we learned that they’d been acquired by somebody else. The new owners were planning to shut down our competitor at the end of the year.
We quickly worked on figuring out which companies used our competitor and the email addresses of the contacts who might be in charge of replacing their current moderated chat. We were a young, unknown company with a client roster in the single digits. We were still building out features. We weren’t sure that our servers could handle a sudden swell of traffic.
We emailed those companies anyway.
Many of them never answered, but some of them did. We doubled our number of customers, and we’ve kept them since. The timing wasn’t ideal, but opportunities don’t always knock right on schedule. We saw a chance to benefit from a change in competition, and we took it.
The Power of Small Steps
When I started JotCast, I was living with my girlfriend in a Manhattan apartment. I worked on JotCast after work and on weekends. Today, that girlfriend is my wife, and we’ve just bought our first home in the New Jersey suburbs for our young son to grow up in. I’m working on JotCast between diaper changes. Life is busy – hectic, even – and it doesn’t stop because you’re trying to launch a business.
Even while working a full-time job when JotCast started and balancing relationships and obligations outside of work, I worked on the business every day. Sometimes it was hours of coding, and other times it was asking a focus group (which often included friends and family) for their opinion on a webpage design. Whether it was a five-minute sounding board session or an hour on the phone for event support, the business was never far from my mind.
When there’s a slow period without many new sign-ups, that’s the time that the JotCast team updates our internal processes, optimizes our website, and plans for the future. There is always, always something to work on.
Our Vision for JotCast
This burgeoning tech world has created so many options for people to connect virtually. However, we share the sentiment with our customers that direct support and feedback have become inaccessible among these larger platforms.
Furthermore, there is no better time or need for productive discussion where we can freely share great ideas while creating healthier communities online. We believe JotCast perfectly strikes this balance. We are always growing and adapting, and we’re excited to see what’s coming next.