How my two-week project turned into a full time open source startup

A small project to automate a web developer's invoicing process morphed into a full-fledged open source gig management system.
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Over a year ago, I decided to build a software business that focused on custom web application development, startups, and unique website projects. I had built a very strong and talented team of people who were ambitious to help me start this company as their side gig. We called it Vampeo. We acquired a bunch of projects and started development while keeping our full-time day jobs.

Long-running projects

After four months of delivering some of our projects, I realized something significant. No project was ever completed. Once each project (e.g., website) was delivered, every client asked for additional features, support, maintenance, updates, and even future projects.

These additional services introduced a new stream of recurring revenue for Vampeo. Clients would pay for servers, email addresses that we set up through G Suite, SSL renewals, website edits, etc.

Wasting my time with invoices

In November 2016, I started gathering all the invoices to email to our clients. I had a Quickbooks Online account to send invoices to clients, however, there was a much larger problem. Many of our services were offered as monthly or yearly subscriptions. For example, clients would pay Vampeo monthly for their servers and emails, annually for domain and SSL, and hourly fees on demand for feature developments. It was extremely hard to send invoices to our customers at the end of each month or keep track of who hadn't paid their annual fees. I started falling behind in invoices, losing money, and losing track of our maintained services.

A small project to automate my business

There was no easy solution to our problem. Our service offerings and billing were handled in separate applications and required lots of manual work. We needed a system with the following features:

  • Ability to automatically charge the client based on the services they have with us
  • Customer self-service portal for clients to log in to an online account, view, edit, request cancellation of their current services, and communicate with us for additional work
  • Internal inventory of our work to keep track of all our active and archived projects and provide total revenue, profit, and progress

Every commercial solution we found was too expensive without covering every use case, and every open source solution was outdated with a very bad UI/UX. So we decided to spend our two-week New Year holiday to develop a very simple platform that leverages Stripe's API to build a web application that fulfills all the above features. Boy was I wrong about the two-week timeframe!

Two weeks turned into months, and then... ServiceBot

The entire development revolved around our mindset of open sourcing our work. It required proper architecture, planning, and implementation. Our years of experience as automation architects and engineers got the best of us. We started adding more features, automating the billing using Stripe, creating a notification system, and much more. Our platform grew from a simple Node.js and Express app into one that uses Node.js, Express, React, Redux, and many more cutting-edge npm libraries.

The decision was clear; this wasn't just a side project anymore, this was the real thing. We were a team of four developers and one graphic designer, and we spent every minute of our free time (outside of our day jobs) on developing this system. We called it ServiceBot, an open source gig management system, a platform you can use to start selling and managing your gig in just minutes.

We released our v0.1 Beta in May and showcased it at Collision 2017. The feedback was extremely positive, as it seemed like every other service-based startup was facing similar issues with billing. After Collision, we've spent the summer re-tuning our code and feature set.

It is now eight months since we started building ServiceBot, and we are now on version 0.5 beta. ServiceBot's GitHub repository contains all of our hard work, and we want to share it and get feedback.

For this reason, we have decided to offer limited open-beta ServiceBot instances on our website. It will take just a couple of minutes to set up your ServiceBot website without any technical knowledge, installation, or lengthy configuration. All that's needed is a Stripe account, as ServiceBot is tightly integrated with Stripe.

If you are interested in testing out our limited open-beta instances, you can sign up on our front page

We hope to grow ServiceBot into a complete automation system to help businesses cut costs by automating their daily operations and the lifecycle of their services.

This was originally posted on ServiceBot's blog and is republished with permission.

Shar Darafsheh - Founder of open source startup, ServiceBot
The passionate leader and an architect of ServiceBot, an open source gig management system. Shahriar has spent the past ten years in software development and cloud automation architecture. He loves playing soccer on his free time.

1 Comment

Very cool to read how in solving a problem for yourself could turn into an awesome open source project like this and a full time startup. Some of the best start up ideas are just that, solving your own personal problem that is huge value to others as well.

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