Milton−a web-based application developed by former marketer and consultant Eric Ralph− is not unlike an efficient personal assistant.
Need to organize your contacts? Not a problem. Milton will ensure your customers don’t get mixed with networking contacts. Is keeping track of billings giving you a headache? Relax. Milton will remind you to follow up on invoices that go beyond 30 days without payment.
“Milton basically helps freelancers and service companies manage their entire business in one application,” says Ralph. “Milton Contacts keeps track of clients, prospects, and suppliers. Milton Projects tracks proposals, projects, and to-dos. And Milton Finances tracks invoices, expenses, and payments.”
Read on to learn who how Ralph got his technology-based business up and running, how his past work experiences informed the Milton product, and how he and his eight-person team are working to make Milton even better.
MM: So what kinds of professionals use Milton?
ER: Anyone who sells projects rather than products can use Milton. Milton customers include copywriters, graphic designers, real estate professionals, [Information Technology] shops, and more.
MM: When did you establish the business?
ER: We started Milton formally in 2009, following Columbus Startup Weekend in April 2009.
MM: What lead you to start Milton?
ER: A friend and colleague runs a marketing firm in town and expressed frustration that nothing like Milton existed for his business. I spoke with some other people I know that validated the need and we went from there.
MM: When you decided to launch Milton, what were some of the first steps you took?
ER: After that basic validation, and the Startup Weekend experience, we started by visually mapping out the application− the look and feel, what the experience would be like. We then took those wireframes to potential users and asked them what they thought. We wanted to keep validating what we were doing, so we could know we were making something people could really use to help grow their businesses.
MM: What resources, especially local ones, did you utilize to get up and running?
ER: We partnered with Mlicki, a local marketing agency, to do all our marketing collateral and website. They also were key in drafting the wireframes of the application. Laura Rees also helped out with [public relations]. We used Ventech Solutions for the development work itself. And of course Dave Gillespie, our attorney, and Matt Wolfe, our accountant.
MM: Did you have any local advisers, role models, or mentors you relied on for advice and input?
ER: We worked with TechColumbus, particularly Chris Anderson there.
MM: What were you doing professionally before launching Milton?
ER: I’ve worked mostly in technology companies, at CAS and Sterling Commerce, in particular, always in roles at the border between marketing and finance. I also consulted to small service industries on a freelance basis for a couple of years.
MM: How has that work experience influenced the way you do business?
ER: My freelancing time way key in understanding the struggles of the freelancing market. Time is always short and demands are high. We really wanted Milton to make freelancing easier for people, to provide some of the support freelancers miss from the corporate environment.
MM: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it?
ER: The biggest challenge is always getting the best product you can in front of the most people. It’s sometimes resources, that you have to choose between improving the product or promoting it. We haven’t been perfect, but we’re doing the best we can.
MM: What advice do you have for others who are thinking of starting their own businesses?
ER: Be aware of the sacrifices in time and money and, if you’re willing to take that on, just go for it. Get started and improve along the way. There will never be a perfect time. Be sure you have the right support from your family, friends, and people that can help you achieve your goals. Then go.
MM: Do you have particular advice for those starting tech businesses?
ER: Prototype early and often, get feedback early and often. Don’t fall in love with the technology, but how it will be used and meaningful to the users. I call this compassionate software design, where the user is the center of the process.
MM: What’s the best thing about being your own boss?
ER: I’m not my own boss, really. I answer to more people than ever. My customers, the others on the Milton team and, of course, my family. The be-your-own-boss thing is, in my opinion, the biggest myth about entrepreneurs. That said, I wouldn’t trade all my current bosses for one corporate boss.
MM: The worst thing about having so many bosses?
ER: The worst thing about having so many bosses is managing priorities. Which customer comments to act on first, which development path to take, et cetera. It’s about balance and doing the best you can, and improving along the way.
MM: What are your short-term goals for Milton?
ER: In the short-term, we’d like to get Milton in front of as many potential users as possible, to get more feedback to guide our future. Feedback is a gift and we value it highly.
MM: What are your long-term goals for Milton?
ER: Medium and long-term, we are planning a mobile version of Milton, as well as various enhancements, like a product manager for service companies, particularly in IT, that sell products and services together.
MM: Tell me what you’ve been up to lately at Milton?
ER: In terms of development, we recently added a feature where you type in a social network profile for a contact, like a Twitter or LinkedIn URL, and Milton finds other social networks that person is on and brings back their profiles and public activity. We’re also testing out various marketing channels to see what works best.
To learn more about Milton, visit YourMilton.com.
All photography by Adam Slane.