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HUB Rewards – One of our 1st LOFT Apps

I have a friend named Dan. He’s actually my best friend and was the best man at my wedding. Dan and I took different career paths. I went the small business entrepreneurial route while Dan went the large enterprise/corporate path. My company has 6 employees while Dan’s has 153,000. See — both ends of the spectrum.

So why am I even sharing this? Because Dan receives special perks and discounts to meals, entertainment, everyday services (cell phone, etc…) and much more because he’s employed by Comcast. I on the other hand do not.

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Thank about it: if you’re Verizon Wireless, doesn’t it make sense to offer 153,000 employees 10% off their cell phone plan? Even if only 5% take the offer, you’re adding 7,650 subscribers. With an average monthly bill of $100, you’re adding monthly revenue of $688,500. (Remember when you do the math to take the 10% discount out!)

As a business owner, I understand why one would offer perks/discounts to employees of large corporations. To reach the same employee base (153,000), businesses like Verizon would have to partner with 25,500 businesses like mine. Doesn’t make much sense on their part.

Am I jealous of Dan receiving benefits like this? Yes

Is it fair to employees of small businesses? No

So am I just writing this to b!tch? Nope

I’m sharing this as it has a tie into one of Shugo’s first LOFT apps for HUB: HUB Rewards. HUB Rewards is an employee reward/perk program available to employees of small businesses rivaling the discounts and offers employees of large corporations receive. By pooling the thousands of small businesses and their employees using HUB, we’re able to bring the same offers to an employee of a five person firm to employees of large enterprises.

Verizon now doesn’t have to partner which 25,500 small businesses. They submit their offer into the HUB Rewards program and are ensured of it’s distribution to a vast nationwide employer and employee base. It’s really a win/win for all parties involved.

For businesses submitting an offer/perk/discount, they reach a massive audience inside of a platform that employees and employers use daily (so you know they’ll see your offer).

For a payroll provider offering HUB to their clients, HUB Rewards offers a unique value-add for their clients.

For an employer, you now offer a program to your employees similar to that of Comcast and other large corporations. Best of all, you don’t have to lick a finger setting up partner relationships since they’re available right out of the box.

For employees, who doesn’t like dollars off meals and much more…

HUB Rewards is a pretty simple concept and one we’re excited to be offering soon. Phase 1 of development is almost complete and is scheduled for a late summer 2016 production release.

 

LOFT – without apps, there’s no value

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Last week, I shared our thought process on why we built LOFT. I can’t stress enough the value we feel it’s going to bring HUB, but also the value it provides all our payroll provider partners. Each has unique needs. Each of their clients have unique needs. Each of their clients’ employees have unique needs. With LOFT, that entire ecosystem can be satisfied.

LOFT will only be as good as the apps available within it. Think about it, would our iPhones be as powerful as they are without apps? Probably not and with LOFT, we have the same thinking. The value will be in the list of apps available to help provide individualized experiences.

So how do we go about filling the LOFT store with apps? We took a two-pronged approach:

1. Industry Vendors – the payroll industry is filled with vendors who provide additional products and services for payroll providers to offer their clients such as workers compensation insurance, time and attendance, HR services, compliance posters and a host of others. Over the years, Shugo’s been able to create special relationships with a number of these vendors, so we approached many about the value of building a LOFT app.

Luckily, many saw the value and were quick to jump on board.  Currently, LOFT apps are being built by providers in the following spaces:

  • Retirement services
  • Time and attendance
  • HR solutions
  • Background check services
  • Pay cards

And these are just the start. Plus in some cases above we have multiple vendors building apps (again because everyone has individualized needs).

2. Shugo’s Own Apps – No better way to show the value of LOFT than building our own apps. And really, building our own apps had two purposes:

  • We could fill the void in areas where other vendors are not building LOFT apps.
  • We could understand the third-party app developer experience. This enables us to guide developers with their own apps and provide tools and utilities to make their lives easier.

We came up with the idea to start with two simple apps, initially as a proof of concept. They would enable us to learn a bit about app development and provide a good background to help with bullet #2 above. These apps include:

  • Weather App: this app enables the user to see their local weather forecast on the HUB sidebar area.
  • Twitter App: this app enables a payroll company to display tweets from a designated twitter account to HUB users. It could be used to relay upcoming payroll company events, share important news and announcements, market additional products and services, etc…

These apps only took us a few hours each to build and enabled us to create a .Net SDK for other .Net developers to use for their own development. So some great wins were achieved there.

The good news is we haven’t stopped there.  We actually have two more apps on the horizon:

  • Contact Central: This app is a collaboration with one of our clients and allows for presentation of important company contacts to a HUB user. It’s a great place to share the assigned payroll rep with HUB administrators and include detail on the client’s 401k and benefit brokers for all HUB employees. It furthers HUB’s goal of being a complete company intranet for small businesses. This app is slated for beta in July and a production release in August.
  • HUB Rewards: If you’ve been around the payroll industry for a bit, you’ve heard me share a vision for an employee reward/perk program for small businesses. Typically these programs are reserved for large employers (the Comcast’s of the world), but by combining the entire employee pool HUB services we can bring the same level of perks to the five employee company. Who wouldn’t want 10% off your Verizon Wireless bill?  And shouldn’t the employee of a small business deserve that perk just as much as an employee of the behemoth Comcast? An alpha of this app is slated for July with a phase 1 production release in August.

Why we built LOFT?

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Over the past few weeks, a number of folks have shared the same thought and posed the same question to me:

“We love the concept of LOFT, but why did you build it?”

If you go back a few weeks you’ll know I shared a number of our new development items result from direct client feedback.  It’s what I called “Collaborative Development“. LOFT though is not one of them.

So why did we build LOFT? It’s simple actually. As HUB’s gained popularity, it’s becoming a big part of the lives of many our clients (payroll providers). In fact, many have shared that their demos and meetings with prospects involve HUB as the core.

First, we’re honored to hear this. It shows our client’s trust in Shugo and the fact we’re building great software for them to offer. More importantly, this means more and more eyeballs and clicks on HUB (i.e. more users). In fact from January 2016 through March 2016, the number of employers and employees utilizing HUB doubled. Yes, in three months the entire user base of HUB doubled.

If you think about the HUB stakeholder base you have:

  • payroll companies
  • employers processing payroll through the payroll companies
  • employees of the above employers

And I’m sure you can guess, each stakeholder has unique needs. Sometimes needs are geographically dictated, sometimes regulatory (think ACA), other times it may be the result of employee count. I’m sure you can understand that an employer with 200 employees with high turnover requires different features and functionality than an employer with 5 employees who’s not hiring.

How can we (Shugo) build all the functionality desired across all our payroll company partners, their clients and their employees? Is it possible?

That’s the question we struggled to answer. After much deliberation, we came to a conclusion:

“We can’t, at least not to the standard we hold ourselves too.”

It wasn’t an easy conclusion. Initially I felt like I was letting our clients down. I’m always the one who wants to continually push the boundaries. I never want to sit still and have our business and feature-set become stale.

Defeated is probably a pretty good way to state it.

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But in the end, it was the right conclusion. If we tried to be everything to everyone, we’d fail like many businesses have done in the past. We’d spread ourselves too thin, complete 75% of the functionality required for a feature and never release it. The confidence our clients have in us would wane.

But how do we give them everything our clients want? We needed to find a way.

To start, we looked a few platforms for inspiration.  Most notably:

  • Facebook and the ability for third party developers to build apps
  • The iTunes App store
  • The Google Play store

What makes Facebook and our phones so great? Sure there’s a fantastic core platform providing a rich set of functionality, but it doesn’t end there. Developers have the ability to extend each with anything they can think of through an app. Think about it. Look at the apps you have installed on your phone versus what your spouse, co-worker or best friend has. I bet there’s some similarities, but a number of differences on what’s installed since we each have unique needs.

Case in point: my wife has the Facebook and Instagram apps installed on her iPhone.  I on the other hand do not, but I do have the complete Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc…) which she doesn’t.

The ability to extend a platform through custom extensions (or as we know them “apps”) provides any set of functionality to be included. This is what LOFT is to HUB.

LOFT is to HUB as the iTunes App Store is to the iPhone.

LOFT is to HUB as the Google Play store is to android.

With LOFT, any third party can extend HUB with anything a stakeholder desires. Specifically, LOFT provides:

  • The creation of a customized complete HCM solution under a single umbrella
  • Integration of best of breed vendors/solutions based on individual payroll company, end client and employee needs
  • Delivery of individualized employee experiences

Or simply put: “with LOFT, if you dream it, you can have it”.

LOFT will only be as successful as the apps available for use. This is where we’re off to a great start.  Not only are we at Shugo building a few apps for the LOFT store, but a number of other vendors who service our clients are as well. This ranges from advanced time and attendance apps, 401 apps, benefit apps, background check apps and much more.

So though we agree collaborative development is great and important, sometimes you do need to jump outside the box. Don’t be afraid. Just make sure you do this after much thought and deliberation. In fact, I had personally been thinking about LOFT for over two years…and we finally pulled the trigger.

To learn more about LOFT, click here.

To learn more about becoming  a LOFT developer and building apps, click here.

 

The Value of Relationships

Jay Foliano is probably not a name many of you know, but he’s someone who early in my professional career taught me the value of relationships. Back in college (late 90’s), I was lucky enough to be presented with internships during the summers and Jay was an integral part of this experience. He was a project manager on a number of projects I was part of and the best PM I’ve ever worked with.

Let me share a story about Jay to start which really shows his character and values. Picture being onsite at a client and your team’s project manager is facilitating the day long session. Because of the jam packed schedule, he’s organizing a call-in lunch order so we don’t lose any steam. When lunch arrives, meals are passed out. Realizing he needs to get the meeting moving again quickly so we stay on track, the project manager eats his lunch in a feverish pitch. A full salad is consumed within a few minutes.

The client’s VP re-enters the meeting room to eat their lunch as they had just stepped out to take a call. This is when the “uh-oh” moment hits. The project manager realizes he ate the wrong meal. He ate the VP’s salad (yes the same VP who’s funding the project). What does the project manager do?

For most they’d stick their head between their legs and turn red like a tomato. They’d scramble, apologize profusely and feel deflated. Good thing that PM was Jay Foliano since that’s not how he responded.

Jay did apologize and immediately left the meeting. He found the best local restaurant and ordered the most expensive meal on the menu and swiftly brought it back for the VP. In that moment, Jay turned a complete goof into a client relationship building event (and story we still tell to this day).

Jay’s passion is two-fold:

  1. Ensuring his team delivers a solution that the client needs and more importantly wants
  2. Ensuring throughout the entire project life cycle, the client is informed, kept in constant contact and pleased with his team’s efforts

Pretty simple but really powerful. Jay was the perfect mix of internal project manager and external business development executive.

As much as we use to “rag” on Jay for being a kiss ass, we all knew the tremendous value he brought to the table and the experience our clients received because of him. And I’m probably being nice saying we use to tease him as sometimes we were downright brutal (think about that lunch story above and you can imagine how relentless we were). I can still hear Todd Donaghy singing “Foooooolliiiiiiaaaaannnnnoooooo” in his best high pitched voice every time Jay was spotted. But our fun with Jay was out of respect, out of the value we knew he brought to our team and the project overall.

This past weekend I ran into Jay at a wedding and it was the first time I’ve seen him in over 15 years. He looked exactly the same, had the same burst of energy and like always was a pleasure to speak with. He asked about my career (again, we haven’t spoken in over 15 years) and was really excited to hear about Shugo. During our conversation though, it struck me how much of an impact he had on my career and how he indirectly shaped the culture at Shugo.

It was his question of “What’s had the single biggest impact on your business?” that brought this to life. My answer:

“It’s the value of the relationships we’ve built with our clients and the payroll industry.”

Not realizing it until this moment, Jay is a big reason why I believe this to be true. He instilled in me as a 20 year old intern the value of relationships in business. We do business with folks we like and respect. And it’s not just building “business relationships” though, it’s building personal relationships with our clients, vendors and partners that truly makes it a great experience.

Jay, even this past weekend, always asks how your family is doing and what your kids are up to these days. This was part of his way of building a fantastic relationship with clients, vendors and partners.

So to Jay, I say thank you.  Thanks for being a positive impact on my early professional career and for helping shaping the values and culture we have at Shugo. To prove how the value of relationships are important at Shugo, check out this 10 minute clip of four Shugo clients sharing why they chose us and our solutions.  I hope after you see this, you’ll understand the impact Jay Foliano has had on my career.

Delight My Customer

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“Delight My Customer”:  Pretty prophetic and for small businesses, a great motto. Don’t take my word for it, take Warren Buffett’s word.

Disclaimer: I’m not a Buffett junkie. I respect him but don’t follow him religiously but the article above really captured my attention this morning. It’s a core tenet of our daily lives at Shugo and a big reason I think we’ve had success and have built such great relationships with a number of our clients.

When I think about how we delight or customers, three areas come straight to mind:

Customer Support – If you ask any of our clients, I bet 9 out of 10 say they’re amazed at the level of support our team provides. One of Shugo’s core values is the “Golden Rule”. Supporting our clients is where we see this most but I’ll admit it’s sometimes a challenge!

Responding to a client inquiry in 10 minutes or less is what I consider to be a delightful experience. Where else do clients receive this? Most likely nowhere.

Again it’s not easy. It means constant interruptions because our team is challenged to respond immediately to clients. It means jumping back on the PC after kids are put to bed, on the weekends, on vacations, etc…  As we add staff, it becomes easier but everyone on our team is tasked with support. So yes, there are times I’m still personally jumping back on the PC close to midnight to help folks.

But it’s important and one of the ways we “delight” customers. And don’t take my word for it, here’s some feedback from clients:

“The best support I’ve experienced from a software vendor”

“In regards to the customer service side I have personally found SHUGO to be one of the most accessible and invested companies we work with. I can’t speak enough to the quality of the support staff. They are truly my favorite partner to work with.”

Constant Innovation – I never wanted to run a business that just rests on their laurels. In today’s world of technology, it’s a dying business model. I want our clients to always think “What are they going to do next?”. I want them to rely on us to bring new features and functionality to the market that enables them to thrive against their competition.

It’s why we invest heavily in technologists. Shugo’s a small company, but two-thirds of our staff are developers (myself included). And I’d bet that we have one of the best development teams out there. Admittedly, I’m probably the weakest of the bunch but I say that proudly. I’m not diminishing my technical prowess. It’s just the other guys are that good. The talent we’ve assembled enable us to look beyond what’s available today and apply it to our clients and their needs.

Here’s what some of our clients have to say (keep in mind we build software that our clients offer to their customers):

“No lie; my clients are telling me again how much they appreciate us because we are always innovating”

“I can’t wait to see what’s next on the horizon”

Sounds delightful right?

Delivery – “Under promise; over deliver” is a motto  we tend to follow. The key though is the last word of that statement: deliver. Delivering and keeping to timelines is important. It enables our clients to trust our ability to release new features and products.

All too often I’ve seen many lose faith in a provider for their continual failure to deliver features to spec and on-time.  Heck, I was part of teams many moons ago that was plagued with this. I never wanted our clients to not have faith in our ability to deliver.

There’s something delightful with our clients being able to share with their users confidently that a new feature or function will be available on a specific date. I want them to be confident in the dates we publish and I think we’ve achieved that.

Here’s what a few have said:

“Shugo delivers cleanly designed applications with features that flat out work as intended.”

“Best of all Shugo delivers; their products and releases flat out work.”

 

 

Collaborative Development

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I’m not sure if it’s an official term or not, but “collaborative development” is something we believe in strongly. Let me explain how it’s defined and how we at Shugo have it implemented.

Collaborative development is the process of including key stakeholders into the design and development process of new features. Most importantly, collaborative development pulls in the thoughts of existing users to ensure a feature’s intended result meet their needs.

Is it revolutionary? Absolutely not.

Do a number of organizations practice this? Sure.

Is it common or uncommon for software developers to ask for feedback from stakeholders during the design phase? My gut tells me it’s uncommon, at least in the industries that we participate in.

If you go and read about some of the breakthroughs from companies like Apple and Google, you’ll read stories about providing features and functionality that users don’t even know they need. Take the iPod for example.

Was the public screaming for a digital music device? No.

Did it revolutionize the way we listen to music? Absolutely.

Did Apple bring users into the design phase?  Probably not since it was new (and I’m sure a top secret project).

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But I’m willing to bet if you look at future iterations of the product, Apple took into account feedback from key stakeholders. It’s why we saw new generations of the product being released (besides the fact that a new version equals new revenue opportunities).

With our product lines, we rely on user feedback. We even pull stakeholders into the design phase. Obviously we can’t solicit opinions from all our users, but having some feedback early ensures we’re building functionality that our users want and need.

Now before I go on, let me share we don’t do this with all things we design and develop. Some of our product lines followed the initial iPod model I mentioned above. PUSH is a great example. No one was requesting text message alerts from payroll and I’ll admit, some to this day still have trouble fathoming it. But others instantly saw the value once we released it, both from a “sexy” sales and operational efficiency perspective.

HUB on the other hand was, and still is, the model of collaborative development. For over a year, a number of our clients had shared their desire for a more robust solution for employees they service than our current pay stub and W2 delivery system. They even outlined for us the intended features and functions their clients would need. In fact, one even wrote design specs for us.

Together, we created a solution that now services employees all across the country. Just this week we were designing a new feature to help reduce some support requests we receive. Rather than just building this feature blindly, we communicated with a few clients who initiated these support requests. This was invaluable as we learned of some additional scenarios they encounter. These scenarios covered a much broader spectrum than our initial feature intent.

Good thing we did this as we rethought our approach and now have designed a different solution with a much better result.

Collaborative development all sounds hunky dory but please don’t think it comes without some struggles. Let me share some of these so if you do adapt this policy:

  1. Stay focused on the task at hand: Being collaborative often times leads to a longer design period with a number of varying opinions (the old too many chefs in the kitchen cliche). Because of this, you must always stay in control. It’s great to hear opinions, but you must be able to stay focused on your task at hand.
  2. Learn how to say no: Let’s be honest, every opinion you receive is not going to be good but how do you say no to a customer who pays you money for your software? Simply, with two letters “N O”. It’s not wrong to say no. Obviously you don’t want to be arrogant but remember this is your product and you still need to ensure it’s still in your vision. So be polite and thank your clients for their feedback but just share that’s now how you envision it. After you do it once or twice, it’ll become much easier.

 

Welcoming Bert Nieves

Pinch me, it feels like I’m in a dream. Sounds childish but that’s how I felt weeks ago when Bert Nieves accepted a position to join Shugo.

It’s always an exciting time when adding a tremendous resource to your team, but it’s more exciting when it’s with someone you’ve known for over thirteen years.  And even more when that person has mentored you in the past and had a profound impact on your career.

It’s why I couldn’t be happier to welcome Bert Nieves to the Shugo team.  We have such a long history (which I’ll get into shortly) but more importantly, Bert makes our team so much better.  Even before his “official” hire date I knew the immediate and long term impact he’d have on our organization.

Bert’s as good as they come technically.  He’s a software architect.  He’s a senior level developer.  He’s experienced working with cloud, mobile, artificial intelligence and a host of other technologies. But that’s not just it.  He’s a strong businessman, an entrepreneur, a visionary.

I met Bert back in 2003 when I interviewed for a developer position at PayChoice. Bert was a senior architect on the team working as a consultant and was part of the team that interviewed me.  Luckily I was offered the job and my career took a turn into payroll.  As many people know, once you get into payroll you’ll never get out.

Over the next few years, Bert and I worked hand in hand on a number of projects.  He was much stronger than I technically so I leaned on his experience. He took me under his wing and taught me software architecture and instilled a number of development best practices I still use today.  When I decided that being a full time employee really wasn’t for me anymore, Bert shared with me the ins and outs of the world of consulting.

He shared the level of work to demand out of yourself and your peers. Heck he even helped me figure out what my initial consulting rate should be.  Bert was also instrumental in the creation of what is now our team at Shugo.

Back at PayChoice we were in the market to hire some additional developers.  One of the developers we interviewed wasn’t a 100% fit for the job title but each of us turned and said we couldn’t let this guy walk.  He was way to talented and would do some great things in his career.

We went to management and pleaded to create an additional hire. We needed to find a way to keep this guy, he was just that talented but not an exact fit for the job description.  That guy is Rob Bacher.   Funny how now the three of us are back working together.

Bert was also instrumental in another hire at Shugo a few years back.  We were looking to add to our development staff and knew the best way to find talent was to ask colleagues we enjoyed working with and admired. Bert was the first phone call we made and he immediately introduced us to Justin Kloos. Justin was a perfect fit for Shugo and now is responsible for many of the features we offer clients today.

He’s mentored myself, Rob and Justin.  I guess you could say we’re sort of Bert’s disciples (don’t tell him I said that though — he’ll hold it over our heads). It’s why I say I feel like I’m in a dream.  We’ve not only added a valuable technical and business resource, but a friend who’s had an impact on our careers.

Check out a bit of Bert’s career on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter @bdizzle89. And I’m sure our clients will see his impact immediately!