When it came to launching her startup, InnoVint, Ashley DuBois admits she was surprised by one thing: she didn’t think it would be so accessible.

“I thought you had to be a hotshot programmer, have a flashy MBA, or work your way up the corporate ladder,” she said. “But if you have the experience and passion for it, you can start your own business.”

That passion is what will get you through all the hard work.

Ashley spent several years managing wineries in northern California before shifting to the tech sector—a move that helped her see that the wine industry is ripe for change.

“Winemaking is a very data-driven science…tracked through an unlimited amount of variables,” she said. “But it’s also not done at a desk. You’re in the cellar, you’re in a lab, you’re deep in a cave, you’re going to and from different vineyards.”

Despite being on the go, winemakers rely on desktop software to do their work; not only is the data they need not accessible when they’re away from their desk, it also requires tons of manual data entry—which means they don’t have access to real-time information.

Ashley thinks it’s time to modernize the back office of wineries. She also has the industry and tech know-how to deliver.

She spent about four months interviewing dozens of winemakers to get their input and, after realizing that every single one of them was excited about the product idea, she and her co-founder decided it was time to go for it. InnoVint officially opened last October, and the beta version of the application will launch this August.

What has she learned moving an idea from spark to beta? Ashley took a few minutes to tell Gusto about her experience.

Hustle, hustle, hustle

Getting input from winemakers was critical for InnoVint’s development. But doing that customer development while also working a full-time job is no walk in the park!

Until last October, Ashley worked full-time for a tech company. “I spent my weekends and nights working on this for months,” she said.

“I would be setting up calls with winemakers at 5:45 p.m. as I was driving home. I was also spending all my weekends in wine meccas like Napa and Sonoma to meet people and talk about what we were working on.”

Know what your audience likes

Ashley explains that it’s critical to understand who your customers are and how they do business; for her customers, even talking about ‘software startups’ was unfamiliar territory:

“Winemakers like to work with other winemakers; people who’ve been in their shoes. They don’t want to have a conference call or sit through a webinar. I know that face-to-face is very important to them.”

Adjust your message to suit the people you’re talking to

The hardest part of Ashley’s work so far has been learning to change how she talks about her product for different groups of people. “Potential clients, winemakers, investors, internal employees, my co-founder, software developers—everyone uses a different language.”

She also realized she couldn’t make assumptions about her customers, even when it seemed obvious. “I remember talking to one winemaker who said to me, ‘Oh, I don’t know about technology. I’m not a huge fan. I like the way I do stuff now. I’m not very tech-savvy.’ Yet he was sitting there, holding his iPad—which he was a power user on.”

The idea of using a mobile device for work is a mental and cultural shift for the people Ashley wants to work with. This means it can sometimes be a challenge just to get the concept across.

Have a working prototype (and the little touches do matter!)

Ashley says developing a solid prototype was indispensable. “The most powerful tool I had was a demo app that our developers put together, which was very strong and flashy.”

She said the app helped prove that her team had the ability to deliver what they promised, and also gave her a chance to tailor her pitch.

“I loaded it with relevant content that applied to [that particular winery], and customized the content as much as possible,” she explained. “Incorporating as much personalization as you can is huge, because it really shows that you took the time to get to know them.”

Learn how to pitch

Ashley learned through the process that cool features don’t matter; what customers want to know is what the benefit is to them. You need to get right to the point to explain why and how your product will be helpful.

It’s a tactic that’s worked well for the InnoVint team—as has the process of building relationships.

“We’re developing a long-term relationship with the winemakers; that’s a unique process for them and an asset for us. To be able to say, ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done that, I’ve seen the pain points myself’ — that’s huge.’”

Use tools that let you focus on what you’re doing

The InnoVint team uses the Atlassian suite of tools, including Hipchat (private group chat) to stay in touch, as well as Jira (project tracking software) and Confluence (team collaboration service). On the accounting side, they integrate Gusto with Quickbooks Online. Ashley recalls:

“The onboarding process is really what resonated with me. As you’re going through the process, there are tool tips that tell you what to do or give you context. Every time I had a question about how to fill in a field, the answer was right there.”

“There are two things when it comes to running payroll,” she said. “Number one: you want to do it correctly. Number two: you want to spend as little time as possible on it.”

Gusto, she says, looks after both.

Remember that patience is a virtue

There’s a delicate balance between talking to your customers and having head-down focus on what are you building, Ashley says, advising that it’s best to take your time. “It’s OK to start with something simple. You don’t have to solve every problem upfront.”

We’re excited about the work Ashley and the InnoVint team are doing, and look forward to celebrating their beta launch later this summer. Thanks for taking time to share with us, Ashley!

Margot Leong Margot Leong, a contributing author on Gusto, provides actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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