How One Black Tech Creator is Building His Platform

EmmanuelThe Write CRM is fast becoming the answer for countless writers. The unique intuitive platform helps writers and publishers with exchanging content and information through a web-based customer relationship manager.

The Write CRM consists of a document, contact, project and submission manager for writers and publishers to share and organize info. It also offers a suite of tools to process e-signatures, annotate documents, convert file formats, and zip documents for distribution. The Write CRM saves publishers and writers time during the process of sending and receiving queries, submissions and documents.

Emmanuel Sullivan, a technical writer, entrepreneur and budding screenwriter, came up with the system. ?I created The Write CRM for writers, originally, so that they?d have a web-based platform to organize their work. I soon realized that publishers also needed a place to store documents, create projects and organize contacts. Plus, I wasn?t getting much interest from writers to the service, so I thought I?d marry the two,? explains Sullivan. ?As a writer myself, I was keeping track of projects on a spreadsheet and thought that it would be much more handy to have a comprehensive platform where writers can record writing projects from anywhere. Although, naturally, I think writers tend to focus on the creative aspect rather than the business and marketing side.?

According to Sullivan, the system is easy to use. ?The Write CRM is a simple, subscription-based, customer or contact relationship manager that consists of five major sections, projects, contacts, companies, documents and submissions,? he says. ?Users populate the sections that apply to them and their writing project requirements, record who they do business with in contacts and companies, exchange content submissions, manage documents and create project reports and goals.? Another valuable tool the program offers is a database. ??Our service also offers an industry contact database of agents and managers, and publishing and studio personnel that writers can reach out to when they?re ready to market their work,? explains Sullivan. ?There is also a document manager where publishers, writers and agents can e-sign documents, annotate files collaboratively, and convert files from one format to another.?

Once Sullivan came up with the idea, he decided to self fund the venture. ?I self funded The Write CRM over a two-year period. A portion of each biweekly paycheck from my day job as technical writer, went into the programming, design and marketing,? he says. ?Some weeks I felt I wasn?t going to have enough, so I had to use credit cards to fill in the gap. There were no other investors, just me as a single founder wearing the many hats required to fund, start and manage a home-based startup.?

While he was confident in his venture, Sullivan asked himself a series of questions. ?At times throughout the development, I wondered if this would this be successful, if would people use it. Am I doing the right thing here and there in regards to marketing and programming?,? he shares. ?It can be tough being a single founder making all the decisions. I also found myself in a role as a founder with a limited amount of folks that I could identify with being a Black technology entrepreneur. My time was also limited working full-time and developing the service, so I relied on a handful of friends and family for some advice. However, most were not familiar with technology.?

The process has taught Sullivan a few business lessons, sure to help him grow the program. ?The response has been lukewarm,? says Sullivan of the reception The Write CRM received. He realized there were a few missteps. ?I found that I spent way more than intended on programming and not enough on marketing. So in turn now I have to rely on marketing avenues that are free or inexpensive, but still provide a big punch. I?ve used social media marketing, pay per click search marketing, banner retargeting, targeted direct email, blogs and industry sponsorships,? he says. ?Currently, I?m working on SEO to improve the site?s search ranking organically. Banner retargeting works well for site awareness and visibility when users leave the site, but conversions are lacking. That?s why you see the ads everywhere.?

There has been a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in the tech sector, making Sullivan a rarity. ?As a Black-owned business owner, I have not faced any particular harsh challenges. However, as mentioned, it?s difficult to find startups and founders in the technology space that are Black,? says Sullivan. ?I wonder what happened to the Black population that has not embraced technology as far as the producing and creation of it. What I see more of in the Black community is the consumption of technology.?

The diversity issue can be frustrating for a tech creator such as Sullivan. ?The lack of diversity in technology is troubling to me. I do see women represented more, but Black and Latin are left behind. I think there are a number of reasons for this,? he says. ?One being how education is perceived and delivered in both communities, another being the lack of role models for those that want to enter technology related fields, the lack of funding to start ventures, and then the cost of higher education being an obstacle to overcome. There are no easy answers to a solution. Although, I must say it begins at home with parent educational involvement and a desire from the community to embrace the world of technology as producers; it?s our future, and not just consumers.?

Perhaps, ponders Sullivan, the Black community might want to look at other groups excelling in tech. ?One note too, is that I find that minority groups such as Asian and some immigrants do well in this sector. The question is what are they doing right?,? he says.

Looking ahead, Sullivan looks to fine tune his CRM. ?My plan for the rest of 2015 is to focus on the submission manager aspect of the CRM more than any other because that is where users will find more value in the service,? he says. ?I?ll also upgrade the backend technology to the latest standards and streamline the site so that it explains the submission manager better as a content exchange platform. We?re also going into publishing, where we?ll publish books under The Write CRM banner.?

Further down the line, Sullivan has bigger plans. ?My long-term goal is to grow the service organically, generate income, and leave my full-time job to focus on the business. It?s tough juggling work, home and a business. I often think about angel investors and have applied to a few, but in the end, I don?t want to lose control of my business. Sometimes there are strings attached when you accept venture capital. I?ve been down the path of applying to startup competitions, angel funds, and listed my business on venture capital crowdfunding sites,? he notes. ?I?ve also successfully secured small business loans in past ventures. Venture funding is another story by itself. Let alone funding for minority-owned businesses.?

Being a serial tech entrepreneur, Sullivan says there are various things he?s learned throughout his career. ?I?ve founded several web-based and product businesses over the years. Some successful, sold two, closed many others. But the biggest lesson I?ve learned is to only produce something that consumers want. Create something that solves their pain points or drastically improves another product. And to focus on that product like a laser, test it out, seek advice early on and don?t attempt to go at it alone with no input,? he says. ?I?ll admit I didn?t do that well. I thought, since I liked it and needed it all writers would. In fact that was the wrong approach. Along with starting too big, with too many features and services, I assumed every writer would need and pay for the service I was offering. I wish I could change that, but another thing I?ve learned well is to pivot. You must know when it?s time to change course and do it quickly. Changing business direction by pivoting helps you stay on course to meet your goals when things go the wrong way instead of waiting for things to work out,? he adds.

One aspect of starting up a business that he passed on is knowing who your customer is. ?So to sum all that up, I did not fully understand what my target market needed; I started too big; and I did not balance funding needs for growth. But I did pivot at the right time. Frustrating, because I really do want the business to succeed, provide value to end users and generate income,? he shares.

The key is to persevere. ?It?s lonely being an entrepreneur, so it?s important to gather as much information as you can from various sources, because you will wear many hats in the adventure of owning your own business,” advises Sullivan.